Four Lent

I did eventually overcome my indolence yesterday — indolence, I should say, and coughing fits — to write a sermon, and it turned out better than I expected. I re-used the story about my elementary-school charge and the story of the Garden of Eden; I have to stop doing that, now, it’s threadbare and I have to come up with something different to say. Plus, it doesn’t really fit into the flow of the sermon. But the people who greeted me at the door were positive about it, and it was given for them.
 
Since I use Mike Daisey’s saga as a jumping off point, I realised that I ought to say something specific about the ground rules for my putting sermon texts online. Every time I do anything with a sermon, anything at all, I’m liable to change it. The text I have at the beginning of a homiletical interaction (whether preaching, or sitting with a manuscript between preaching two services, or just opening a file to have a look) I see little infelicities that I have to change, sometimes whopping infelicities. The sermon I write on Saturday is not the same as the sermon I preach Sunday morning, and that in turn differs from the sermon I paste into the blog interface Sunday afternoon. Different, different, different — and I do not represent any of these as a veridical transcription of the sermon text at any point other than the one I have in mind while typing up a blog.
 
Anyway, the sermon’s below the fold.
 
Since today is Mothering Sunday, I had bought Margaret a couple of wee presents, a book about the bird life of Britain (we may take up low-level birding once the weather favours us) and some dark-chocolate and caramel bars. After breakfast, we went to our respective churches, I preached and Margaret read the Old Testament lesson, and we met up after church to go the Antiques Fair. I entrusted a couple of pens for treatment to Peter Crook, and we browsed and came home for a TV marathon and cosy restfulness. A good, sunny, agreeable Sunday, spent in beloved company.
 
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Somewhat New Edition

Back when Wipf & Stock very kindly supported our beloved St Luke’s in Evanston by printing a small book of my sermons as a benefit for the parish, we prepared the manuscript in AppleWorks(!). I sent W&S a PDF of the manuscript with funky margins that they had specified, which they somehow wrought into the handsome published paperback.
 
In the spirit of the e-book era, I thought I’d re-upload the book in a more manageable PDF format. First, I tried manipulating the PDF output with Cheap Impostor, the invaluable booklet-layout software, but the margins were too extreme to wrangle into the space of a sensible layout. Then I opened the AppleWorks file, where I saw a headache-inducing array of mark-up. It’s been years and years since I worked primarily in AppleWorks, so I quickly decided that I would copy-and-paste the innards of the file into a more congenial processor (I used Pages, though I also work happily with Mellel). The last trick involved manipulating margins so as to fit an A5 layout with page content matching, to the extent possible, the pagination of the original edition. This is exactly the kind of project that appeals to someone who’s writing a book that must be done as soon as humanly possible.
 
One final step: I don’t have access to a good original of the cover Wipf & Stock gave the book, so I whipped up a new version based on the colours of Trinity College, Glasgow. Done, and done! So this morning I am uploading the more tablet-friendly PDF version of the ebook; some other procrastination day, I’ll see if I can transmute the copy to a Kindle version, and if I ever upgrade to OS X Lion and download iBooks Author, I’ll see about running the manuscript through that (and I think I remember that there are a couple of lingering typos that I wanted to fix). But for now, here’s what I’ve got.
 

 
Please remember that the whole project was organised as a benefit for St Luke’s, so if you download a copy (of your kindness) please think about sending a donation to them (this isn’t necessarily an on-going commitment; or you can send an old-fashioned ‘check’). The congregation has sailed through some rough waters, and they have very significant repairs to complete on the exquisitely beautiful building (repairs that they are addressing, commendably, only in tandem with outreach to international and neighbourhood missions).
 
[Update: there are other, newer sermons at various points in these pages. If you search for “sermon” or some keyword from the text from which you’re working, perhaps in combination with “in the name of the”, you may turn them up. Plus, there’s the ‘Sermons’ category, which does not actually include all the sermons in my blog, but does pick up a few. When I have time (/hollow chuckle) I’ll try to ensure that all sermons are tagged for that category.] [Now done.]

October Preaching

If nothing else will elicit a blog post from me, you can count on my blogging when I have a sermon to post. So in case you were worried that I had run off to the Canary Islands, or disappeared with a fortune in jewelry, or dropped off one of the bits of the map where you can see dragons and sirens and tritons, none of those exotic things have happened. I’ve just lost the habit of blogging.
 
But I did draw the preaching assignment for today, and it included one of my favourite difficult verses — ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other. / I form light and create darkness, / I make weal and create woe; / I the Lord do all these things’ — on which I immediately was determined to preach. If I had more time, I would have brought in the incarnational aspect of the problem of God’s role in woe.
 
Not everyone was pleased with the resulting sermon, though those dissatisfied kindly used words such as ‘thought-provoking’ and ‘interesting’. A number in the congregation did specify vigorous approval, though, which is about what I aspire to. It’s set out in full in the ‘continue Reading’ section below.
 
Now, though, I have to hammer out a fifty-minute lecture on Solomon, his wisdom, his love life, and his successors, then dash back to church for Evensong, then stumble home to collapse in a heap before waking up early to give the Solomon lecture.
 
And Nate’s wedding is coming close!
 
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Before I Fall Asleep

I’m a little embarrassed to be using the blog only for posting sermons, but I suppose that it’s good for me to keep this functioning for some purpose, until the day I get exasperated with writing on corporate platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and return to my own blog. Anyway, I did preach this morning, and although I’d really have liked to give the manuscript a once-over, I didn’t have the energy to smooth out the wrinkles.

I’ll add the text of the sermon below the fold, as they say, but here’s the video recording from St Mary’s website:

(I’m not looking at it, so if Kelvin edited in subliminal messages, or made me sound even more incoherent than I usually do, you can go ahead and laugh, and it won”’t hurt my feelings ’cos I won’t know.)

There were three or four sermons jostling to get onto the manuscript this week, and I suspect that there are places where one would-be sermon manages to elbow into the flow of the actual sermon, and I know there are places I saw a problem in the typed version that I tried to correct, or clarify, spontaneously. On the whole, though,it went very well, and I should sleep pretty intensely tonight.

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Sunday After Ascension

While Madhavi watches Rafael Nadal systematically crush the life out of Roger Federer (whoops! Federer’s coming back!), impeded only intermittently by the BBC’s execrably artsy camera direction (that phrase modifies “watches”, not “crush”), I’m entering this morning’s sermon. The sermon fought hard against my writing it down; I knew the rough direction I wanted to go, but I was falling into bad compositional habits and couldn’t turn the prose the way I wanted it. Eventually I got something close to what I wanted, though I think the beginning ought to work better. It’s posted after the “Continue Reading” link.
 
Church was lovely this morning, though the weather has turned outright chilly after Friday’s taste of exquisite summer sunshine. Most important, though, my beloved wife and daughter arrive in Glasgow on Thursday morning!
 
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Happy, Uh, Everything! To Everyone!

So, before I say anything else, I want to wish a very, very happy (USA) Mother’s Day to my mom Nancy, and to Margaret’s mom Pat, to my grandmothers Isabelle, Lois, and Del, and to Margaret’s grandmothers Ruth and Dorothy. And to Margaret — hi, honey! And without prejudice also to anyone for whom Mother’s Day entails painful recollections, awareness, prospects, and also to mothers-to-be. Seriously, my best wishes and thanks and sympathies to you all.
 
This morning I preached the sermon I was struggling with yesterday, and it went well, I think. I’ll post it below in the “More” link. If you’re a critical preacher (by which I mean, you think back over the mechanics of what seems to have worked, what not, how and why things worked or didn’t, how it could have been better, and so on) Sunday afternoon can be an intriguing time. I’m utterly exhausted, as are most clergy I know. At the same time, I can’t resist tinkering with the sermon, especially as I copy-and-paste it into my blog.
 
The Scottish elections resulted in a landslide for the Scottish National Party, an interesting group that is explicitly pro-independence for Scotland (but which may, behind the scenes, be hoping not to have to cope with the economic ramifications of — you know — actually separating from England). They had one part of the right spiel for higher ed in Scotland: no fees for home students (we’ll surely impose fees for students from the rest of the UK, otherwise sticker-shocked English students would flee for the border by the thousands. The £9000s, to be precise). The SNP would have done better to promise us also fully to fund university education in Scotland, perhaps with provisos about the integrity of programmes so that they don’t end up underwriting “degrees” that amount mostly to money grabs by unscrupulous profiteers. Still, it’s hard times around, and I don’t begrudge other parts of the social and cultural fabric the support they need. Go, NHS!
 
Our friend Madhavi got a post-doc last week, that commences in January, after she finishes her contract with Glasgow. It’s great that she got a job, thus avoiding penury and deportation, but it’s sad that she won’t be part of our immediate close-knit group of local friends.
 
Twitter and Facebook are strangling the intertwingled web by cold-shouldering RSS. Say, remember when people had a lot invested in RSS, its precise versions, its alternative Atom, and who invented what? Now Facebook and Twitter are trying to make sure that you access their data only in the form they control. Someday, I fear, we will look back on the Aughties and see with regret the way that an open web and an open social-media infrastructure flourished before interested capital stifled them.
 
Margaret and I leave tomorrow — she to the States, for graduation and Pippa-pick-up duty, and for visits to the mothers we are greeting and saluting today (Hi, moms!); I, to Wales, where I will represent the Scottish Episcopal Church in the Four Nations (England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland) Faith and Order meetings. If you were thinking of committing heresy, don’t try it for the next three days — I’ll be on your case in a flash and will solve it in an hour, just like the crime dramas that Margaret watches.
 
I found a very nice bargain fountain pen on eBay this week, and it arrived yesterday. It’s a rather dated shade of green (olive-avocado-ish) but the Triumph conical nib is sweet and it’s a Touchdown filler, one of my favourite kinds. That made a nice treat.
 
Too much blether. I’ll paste the sermon below, and will try to spread out my blogging more evenly hereafter.
 
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Two Of Three

I’ve preached each of the last two Sundays, and I’ll be preaching again next Sunday, too (but don’t worry, pulpits are safe from me the Sunday after). Last Sunday I was at St Aidan’s, Clarkston (where I’ll be next week), and this morning at the cathedral. I’ll post last Sunday’s sometime soon, but I don’t have it right at hand; instead, I’ll post this morning’s, video below and the text in the “more” section.
 

 

I was worried about continuity problems. It seemed to me that the sermon didn’t sustain its focus as well as it should, and several of the paragraph-to-paragraph transitions were too jarring. Yet though I was dissatisfied with it, a number of our friends in the congregation expressed their very positive response — so whatever my internal editor might think, it seems that things worked out all right.
 
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Bullet Time

I’m not Neo, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a succession of obligations this week whizzing at me like the missiles in The Matrix. Missing one day of a busy week for travel will do that, I guess. This week I must prepare two course proposals for next year (for our new-style taught Masters programme), continue interviewing colleagues for my Learning-and-Teaching responsibilities, continue developing one grant proposal and turn in another, write back to my wonderful hosts at Oxford, make time for community worship on Tuesday and Thursday, gear up for beginning my New Testament lectures Monday, and prep my role for the all-day Gospel of Matthew Study Day on Saturday.
 
It is good, though, to remember that the sermon seemed to have gone down well (it’ll be posted in the “extended” portion of the entry; it needs a couple of corrections, which I’ll get to anon) and that Margaret and I had a delightful time down south. I must say that the guest rooms in the Warden’s Lodgings — which the College had only just finished refurbishing Friday for our arrival Saturday — were extraordinarily comfortable and elegant. We’d have loved more time to meander and explore Oxford, but I think we dare hope that we may have another visit sometime.
 
Now, back to work.
 
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Serving the Fruits of my Labours

An intense few weeks of lecturing, preaching, and giving presentations peaked with yesterday’s sermon at St Mary’s. I won’t have another extracurricular commitment until the weekend after next, at the Christian New Media conference (I’m appearing in one of the Theology sections, “Homo Connectivus,” but they astutely reckon that my name might scare registrants away, so I’ll be a surprise to the delegates). That’s Saturday and Monday, and then I’ll have another lull until November.
 
Last week being exceptionally busy, I was experiencing a degree of frustration with sermon-writing. Eventually I decided that since this was one of the Sundays for which I’d written a lectionary help over at Working Preacher, I would take my own advice and work from the interpretive points in my essay. (I’ll paste the sermon into the “More” part of the post.) I think it worked out pretty well. In a more leisurely week, there are texts I’d have wanted to weave into the exposition, and I’d have liked to give it a thorough once-over, the kind that comes between the early service and the later service — but since we only have one main service at the cathedral, the first go-round was all we got.
 
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Joy Doth Wait

I did mean to post Sunday’s sermon yesterday; I just ended up in two committee meetings that ran much longer than I expected, and then after I strolled home and made dinner I remembered that I was supposed to go to the Monday evening Bible Study at the cathedral, so I dropped everything and dashed to church. By the time I got back and chatted with Margaret, I just wanted to go to bed.
 
It’s now only a few days till Margaret will arrive. I need a sermon for Sunday, and I have a series of administrative obligations to fulfil this week, and I haven’t even opened the file for my James commentary for two weeks (augh!), and I need to clean house for Margaret’s arrival — but the weather is lovely, I’m gratified that my colleagues respect and trust me with responsibility after so short a time in this new system, and above all, I’ll be together with Margaret in less than a week!
 
Sermon in the “more” link below, or you can watch the video over at St Mary’s.
 
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Morning’s Sermon

I don’t really know what to say about this morning’s sermon. Just before the service, I was sure it needed another day or two spent marinating in my homiletical sauces; I suspect I was nervous because preaching about death can risk touching on some people’s very strong, very raw feelings. Moreover, I really wanted my theological affirmations to be as sound as possible, and I wasn’t confident that I hit the mark.
 
The preaching itself went okay — I tried to keep my voice at more of a subdued, steady volume — and I was intensely relieved when the sermon was over. The feedback after the service was positive, and several people seemed to have locked in on the general direction I had been trying to strike.
 
After church, I was exhausted and ravenous, which would have been more fun if I weren’t trying to cut down on salty snacks. Munching has a different valence when your midday indulgence is red grapes and carrots (sequentially, not mixed). When my hunger was sated, I put on a long episode of Taggart, watched lazily, drifted to sleep, woke up in time to figure out much of what I missed (and in time to hear Jim Taggart diss Edinburgh). I’m glad the sermon worked out satisfactorily, especially for the folks who pulled me aside to talk after the service, and am thankful also for the opportunity now to curl up on the couch, read a detective novel, and continue unwinding.
 
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Alleluia!

No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the baseball season, nor of Duke’s convincing victory over WVU (sorry, Mountaineer friends). I’m talking about navigating last week’s complications without having run smack into any shoals. Oh, plus, there’s that whole Jesus thing.
 
My lectures ended a week ago last Friday, which might have triggered my annual end-of-year physical collapse, except that Pippa was here and I fought on to do as much with her as her sleep schedule, the weather, her interests, and the days allotted us permitted. Then I put her on her plane Thursday, and that might have triggered my annual end-of-year let-down plus missing-Pippa let-down, but it’s Holy Week and I had services in which to participate and a sermon to write. Then too, Friday was the anniversary of my father’s death, so that might have triggered my annual let-down, compounded with missing Pippa and missing my Dad, but I still had the sermon to write and services today. So I spent yesterday working on the sermon, chanted the Exsultet at this morning’s Easter Vigil (happy Baptism, Ruth! Happy baptismal anniversary, Si!), preached at the ten-thirty main Easter service (sermon included in the extended portion of the post), had a sip of celebratory champagne, and walked the two miles home.
 
So guess what it’s time for now.
 
I’ll finish eating (ferociously hungry) and have a wee lie-down. The Festal Evensong starts at 6:30, and I may take a cab tonight, or perhaps just give it a miss altogether. For now, though, I wish you all a happy Easter, and we’ll see how I feel in a few hours.
 
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