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Preaching That Offers Aspirin When You Need Chemotherapy (via Will Willimon)

I hope if you hear a sermon tomorrow it does not offer counsel about therapeutic change, but an invitation to spiritual reanimation.
From Accidental Preacher by Will Willimon.

We mainline, non evangelical, noninvasive preachers pat a congregation on the head as we murmur, “There, there, God loves you as you are. Promise me you won’t change a thing.” Billy [Graham, who Willimon invited to preach at the Duke Chapel] consistently preached the gospel of the second chance. Those in desperate need of a second or third chance require more than “progressive” sermons – Jesus just hanging out with people as they re, bourgeois conformity with a spiritual tint, offering a bit of a spiritual nudge. Buttoned-down mainline Christianity offers aspirin for those in need of massive chemotherapy.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 101.


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The Word That Rocks Your World (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon relates a lesson about Scripture that he attributes to learning from Karl Barth in his memoir, Accidental Preacher.
Sometimes preachers are tempted to figure out how to make texts relevant to the lives of hearers.
Scripture calls us to realise that our lives need transformation, not fine-tuning.
(You might think I’m cherry-picking all the best bits of this book, but I think all the rest is just as good as the excerpts I’ve been posting. I’m enjoying every page.)

Barth taught me that when interpreting an odd biblical text, mind the gap between you and God. The question to put to a passage of Scripture is not the modern, self-important, “How is this relevant to my life?” or, “How can I make this text make sense?” The proper question, said Barth, is, “How is God calling me to change? What would I have to relinquish , for this text to make sense?”
Scripture’s sly intent is not agreement but conversion. Something is gained, yes, but much can be lost as well. After a service, an. attendee says, “You preachers never talk about anything that’s related to my world.”
I try to find a nice way to say, “Idiot! Scripture doesn’t want to ‘relate to your world.’ Scripture wants to rock your world.”
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 95-96.


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When You’re A Disciple Of Jesus, There Will Be Bound To Be Bonfires (via Will Willimon)

If you think that becoming a disciple of Jesus will lead to a settled, monotonous, status-quo, life that you’re in control of, think again.
From Will Willimon’s memoir, Accidental Preacher.

It’s odd that some characterize God’s creative work as the making of order and stability. I’ve found the opposite to be true; you’ll know it’s the Trinity if it’s disruptive. Because of God’s refusal to leave well enough alone, Christians’ lives are always on the verge of being out of control. Jesus intrudes among us not to care but to call. Disciples are made, not born. Jeremiah compared God’s ways with Israel to a potter pounding a lump of clay to make something out of a mess of mud (Jer. 18:1-12). Disruption — conversion, metanoia, relinquishment, detoxification, purgation, renovation—characterizes the work of the divinepotter who pounded Abraham, Mary, Paul, and maybe me. There are bound to be bonfires..
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 92.


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Pastoring Based On Calling, Not Feeling (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon tells the story of his first Christmas in a new appointment serving a very small church, having received the news that his estranged black-sheep father has died in his memoir Accidental Preacher.
His stories resonate with experiences of pastoral life, not in a self-serving or manipulative way that presents the pastoral role as one deserving pity, but in ways that demonstrate that pastors can only minister grace when we continually experience our personal dependence on it.
I’m only held together by gaffer tape, baling wire and grace. And the gaffer tape and baling wire are purely decorational.
That’s not the story of my past, as if I’m now beyond what I commit to people as being their current need.
It’s still my daily experience.
From Willimon:

That’s church for you. Church forces us to march in and sing even when we’re not in a singing mood, not feeling faithful, and “joyful and triumphant” is not us. Church doesn’t wait for you to have the proper motivation for worship in order to call you to worship. And there are so many times, when you have been called to be a pastor, that you don’t feel like being a pastor but still must act the part. You may be in pain, may be in over your head emotionally and theologically. Though you are supposed to be an expert in helping others to grieve, you may not know how publicly to mark your own loss. As a pastor, your personal problems take a backseat to the needs of others. You’re the only pastor they have, and Christmas comes but once a year. So you pull tight the cincture and pray, “God, who got me into this, give me the hardheaded determination to get through it.” You go out and act like their pastor even when you don’t want to.
When seminarians plead for graciousness for “personal reasons,” when they are late with some class assignment because an aunt whom “I revered as if she were my grandmother” departed or they are suffering a bout of depression, I think, Clergy who are not periodically depressed have either given up too soon or expect too little of Jesus. You can’t stand up on Sunday and say, Nothing would have pleased me more than to have a sermon for you but first it was one thing and then another so we’re going to break up into discussion groups. Then we’ll pool our collective ignorance and call that todays’ sermon.
I’d get fired for saying this to a student, but even the dean can’t keep me from thinking it.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 71-72.


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The Difference Between Following A Vocation And Volunteering (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon’s memoir Accidental Preacher is an engaging collection of memories and observations.
He tells the story, and the art of telling the story is as enjoyable as the stories themselves.
In writing about the somewhat neglected concept of calling, he makes the observation that being a disciple of Jesus is not our idea. We didn’t volunteer, we were called. And that stops our service being about ourselves and makes it about the one who idea our service originated from.

In a rare lapse into autobiography, Isaiah dates his call, “In the year that king Uzziah died,” leaving us to speculate why the death of the king was significant in the young prophet’s vocation. Methodists adore this passage. Our Methodist national anthem is based on Isaiah 6, Dan Shutte’s “Here I Am, Lord.” Few Methodists make it through two stanzas of this hymn without volunteering to go evangelize Zulus or at least to shed a maudlin tear.
Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. … I will go, Lord, where you send me … I …
Note the prevalence of the first—person personal pronoun as vocation degenerates into volunteering. Rather than risky encounter with a summoning God, worship morphs into sappy songs, syrupy clichés on the screen, followed by the sharing of tiring details about our personal lives at the coffee hour. Christian preaching slides into “Come right over here and sit next to me. I’m dying to tell you all about myself,” and theology becomes commentary on human experience of God rather than God. Interiority writ large.
Here I am, Lord overlooks a great gift of vocation: rescue from our overly cultivated subjectivity. Vocation’s power, said Hermann Hesse, is when “the soul is awakened…, so that instead of dreams and presentiments from within a summons comes from without,” and an external relation “presents itself and makes its claim.”
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Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 51-52, 54.


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Christ’s Sheepdog (via Harold Senkbeil)

In The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil observes that God is the comforter of his people, and the means by which he brings that comfort are the simple and straightforward work of the pastor.
The image he uses is not one of pastor as shepherd, or under-shepherd, or stand-in shepherd, but as sheep-dog.

And you as pastor are his authorised agent to bring his presence and his healing by means of the word and sacraments you bring his sheep in every circumstance of life, not just in those moments when life itself hangs in the balance, but also in those mundane, routine, ordinary ups and downs of life. You’re not a counsellor or therapist, of course, but you are Christ’s sheepdog to do his bidding. You’re an errand boy for Jesus, sent to disseminate hope and peace in the most mundane circumstances of life. A fearful, anxious teen, a worried mother or harried father will find stability in your ministry. Not in you, but in God himself, who has chosen to do his consoling work through the word he’s given you to speak. The wondrous reality is that God himself is present by means of the is word to settle anxious hearts and quiet fear. “Thus says the Lord.” Now that’s a mouthful of certainty in an uncertain world!

The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil, Lexham Press, 2019, pg 54.


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Fed, Nourished, Guarded, And Protected By The Tools Christ Has Entrusted To Our Hands (via Harold Senkbeil)

In The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil reminds us that God accomplishes the work of growing the saints through the tools that Christ has entrusted to the Church, not through the personal capacities of those who wield them. This is not say that people don’t matter, it’s just important to remember what the channels that God works to bring change and growth really are.

I can guarantee you’ll be strung out, tapped out, and burned out in the ministry very quickly if you don’t grasp this one central truth: By your own power or strength you can do absolutely nothing as a servant of Christ and steward of his mysteries. I’ve seen it over and over again: A bright, gifted young pastor is driven to despair and the brink of emotional and spiritual collapse simply because he set out to do ministry relying on his own ingenuity and internal resources. Please get this straight: It’s not that you do part of the work and God does the rest; it’s not that you do a little bit and God does a Whole lot. Rather, in Christ’s church the Holy Spirit does everything.
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By our Lord’s own mandate, he has so arranged it in his church that we grow, are fed, nourished, guarded, and protected not out of the weakness and ineptitude of our ministers but rather by the tools Christ has entrusted into their hands. The gospel and the sacraments are not static entities—mere object lessons by which we advertise and promote the kingdom of God. Rather, the gospel and sacraments throb with vitality. They are filled to the brim with the energy and life of God’s own Spirit. The actual words that originated from the mouth ofJesus are the instruments and tools of the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith. And just think: Jesus has given those very words to you. He has entrusted into your all too human and very flawed mouth and hands the gospel and the sacraments by which the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify his church on earth. You might fail; in fact, from my own bitter experience I have to say you most certainly will fail—repeatedly and spectacularly. But we believe in the forgiveness of sins also for pastors! So let me tell you this: Though you will falter and fail, God’s Spirit will not.

The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil, Lexham Press, 2019, pgs 28 and 30.