America’s Next Top Model

by Karl Fredrickson

Sunday before service started I told Nate Noonen that the sermon was hard for me, hard in the preparation. I told him it was harder for me than the words appeared to me on the page after I’d written it.

Usually I try to move beyond a sermon when it’s over. I know that many preachers find this difficult, even if by virtue of our work we, simply, have to go off to the next thing. I learned from Dallas Willard how important and ministry nurturing it can be to move along, to keep going, and to not get stuck in a sermon.

It can be a tempting thing to linger over what we say as preachers. Aside from our easy proclivity to esteem ourselves, we can also lose sight of the purpose of the sermon. It’s purpose is, in part, to move people to action.

Lingering and action contrast. The best sermons are worth lingering over, returning to, hearing again, and they somehow move us to act, to be in the world, and to be different in the world.

For me, moving beyond Sunday’s sermon has proven particularly difficult. I invited the church, our intentionally multiethnic church, to listen to and learn from the life of Hannah, a sister in the first testament who spent years asking God to remember her, asking God for a son. Most of us don’t embrace the real experience of waiting while asking for the same thing. I personally find it’s more efficient to keep going. Especially in terms of injustice and other topics that prove our country’s lack of growth, conception, and productivity.

As part of the sermon, I gave a few names of people that I think our church folks would be tutored by in our work of reconciliation. These people “came up before me” during my sermon preparation the weeks prior. They aren’t, by any means, an attempt at a longer treatment of the question. Of course this was in the same message that I offered my personal and hard questions about why that ministry of reconciliation is even important and how hard it is despite its biblical relevance. Hannah is answering some of my personal questions these days.

My brother, David, has offered a wonderful resource on the topic and related themes of reconciliation in the form of an annotated bibliography. You need to read it here.

At Nate’s request, here are those names of people I mentioned. I characterized them as contemporary renderings of 1 Samuel 1-2, fully realizing that these folks themselves would use other words to describe their work. Thanks for asking, Nate Noonen.

  1. The writings and work of Audre Lorde whose poem, New York City, I read as a contemporary version of our scriptural passage (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
  2. The writings and work of Peggy McIntosh
  3. The writings and work of Patricia Leary
  4. The writings and work of Tim Wise
  5. The writings and work of Ida B. Wells
  6. The writings and work of bell hooks
  7. The revolutionary suicide post on Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s blog was to be my second contemporary version of the text but I didn’t have the time to include it; it’s here.

The Supreme Public Event #2

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

We greatly need somebody to whom we can reach out in the hope that there will be acceptance and perhaps understanding.  If Jesus with all of his strength needed that, then we do too.  “Our lives through various scenes are drawn.”  There are dark nights of the soul, times of testing and loneliness.  We need someone to whom we can turn and hope for a little encouragement and a little cheering along the weary way.

Jesus exposed his heart to his disciple and revealed his lonely need.  Dr. Alexander Maclaren expressed the opinion that the Lord may have been the loneliest man who ever lived and loved people.  He tried so hard; they understood so little.  There was this need in him of some soul to stand close.  If that be in you, do not call it foolishness; your Lord needed that.  It was said of his very selection of these men that he chose them “that they should be with him.”  The dear Lord had so few, really.  Does he not still have so few?  One looks out upon any congregation of people and wonders how many are really with the Lord?  Does there blaze within you or me the desire to be well-pleasing to him, to hold up his arm, so to speak, in this world which hates him and always has hated him, in this world so prone to scorn his way?  Will you hear the Lord of your life and mine saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: Tarry ye here, stay with me and watch with me”?  Tarry and watch with me (Matthew 26:38).

Do you not understand that?  Have you never been to that place?  It is the place where we seem to have done all that we can and then find that it is not enough.  It is the place where we have spent ourselves and apparently in vain.  If only someone would just come up to us then and put out a hand or say a kind word.  “Watch with me, stand with me, sit with me a moment,” we want to say.  Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and the Dying and one of the world’s outstanding authorities on dealing with dying people, says that people who are critically sick and who are facing death may just need someone to enter their room as a human being, not claiming to have the answers.  Such a person, says Dr. Kubler-Ross, may need more than anything someone who will simply ask if there is anything the critically sick person wants done.  In other words, our greatest need in extremity is to have someone to be with us, whether or not there is anything that can be done for us.