Disposable Sermons

Since 1979, I have preached on a weekly basis. Say 50 sermons per year . . . 39 years . . . that’s roughly 1,950 sermons. Makes you sleepy just thinking about it, doesn’t it?

Many church members assume pastors accumulate sermon manuscripts that serve them for decades. Preachers simply open a folder or file and: VOILA—instant sermon.

If only this was true.

Like perishable food, sermons possess an expiration date. Homilies are written in a specific context for a particular people in an explicit time. In my personal experience, any sermon 18+ months old is as stale as week old bread.

sermonDespite this knowledge, I own a couple of four drawer file cabinets filled with sermons going back to Jimmy Carter’s presidency. I’ve faithfully hauled them from church to church in the certain knowledge they would one day prove useful.

I’m not sure why.

Perhaps my future biographer would reference the preserved manuscripts. Maybe literary agents would outbid one another to publish Volume 1 of Bill Burch’s Sermons. Surely my grandchildren would treasure these homiletical masterpieces.

I was wrong.

So I’ve started the laborious task of sorting through the sermons. The process is relatively straightforward:

  • Sermons composed on a typewriter—TRASH
  • Sermons printed on a dot-matrix printer—TRASH
  • Sermons yellowed with age—TRASH
  • Sermons with rust-stains from paper clips—TRASH
  • Sermons written before 2013—TRASH
  • Sermons . . . well, you get the idea.

So I’m throwing away most of my files; however, the process has filled me with a spirit of peace. Sermons are designed to be disposable. Like the daily news, the good news is relevant, fresh, and hot off the press.

I also have a lot more room in my file cabinets.

Spring Training

Winter’s dreary days drag a gray blanket over the cold world. Spirits plunge along with the mercury in thermometers. Bare branches, brown grass, and pale skin long for the sultry touch of sunshine, but all they receive is the chilly comfort of February rain as winter blues fade to bleak black.

Then one hears those four mystical, marvelous, miraculous words: “Pitchers and catchers report!” The magical incantation causes Old Man Winter to vanish into thin air. Suddenly, the light pierces the clouds with golden streams of promise. Morning temperatures receive an early wakeup call from spring. Branches bud, lawns green, and the sun shines.

The Boys of Summer are back, and spring cannot be far behind.

Spring Training BravesWinter does not officially end until March 21. However, an early harbinger of warmer days is the advent of baseball’s Spring Training. The American and National League teams practice in the sunny climes of Florida and Arizona in preparation for Opening Day. The first to arrive are the pitchers and catchers to warm up their arms after the off-season hiatus.

John Fogarty, former lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, sings a baseball anthem entitled Centerfield.  The rock beat declares:

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone—the sun came out today!

We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.

A-rounding third and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;

Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Then the chorus expresses a sentiment that any child of the game intuitively understands:

Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Look at me, I can be, centerfield!

Our Lenten Worship Series at Northside Church is entitled Spring Training as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. Join us each Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00.

Preachers and laity report!

Ash Wednesday

People keep time in a variety of ways. The calendar year runs from January to December. Businesses operate on a fiscal year. Families with children follow the school calendar. Kindergarten students learn about the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

The church marches to the beat of its own time. The church year begins with Advent—the four Sunday season prior to Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas celebrate Christ’s coming into the world. Epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism and recounts Christ’s early ministry.

During the forty days of Lent, believers prepare their hearts for the events of Holy Week. Easter proclaims that Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Fifty days later the festival of Pentecost recalls God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

The annual cycle rehearses the story of Christ and the church. The seasons recall Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian calendar baptizes ordinary time with sacred meaning.

This year Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14. The 40 day season (excluding Sundays) concludes the Saturday before Easter. The somber, reflective time calls Christians to prepare their hearts to hear once again the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

During Lent, many believers “give up” something as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Others “take up” a spiritual discipline or charitable cause in imitation of God’s love.

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. During the service, the minister marks believers’ foreheads in the sign of the cross. Traditionally, ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds are used. Since Old Testament times, God’s people have observed penitential times with “sackcloth and ashes.”

During the imposition of the cross with ashes, the minister typically says: Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel. The ashes and words serve as reminders of humanity’s mortality and sinfulness. However, the sign of the cross recognizes God’s gifts of eternal life and forgiveness.

On Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey to the cross and empty tomb. During this 40 day journey, let us walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Growing Older If Not Up

Recent signs in my life that I’m growing older—if not up:

  • I drive around town with Sam the Yorkshire Terrier sitting in my lap.
  • I fall asleep in my favorite easy chair watching TV after 9:00 p.m.
  • I have a favorite easy chair.
  • On Saturday mornings, I cannot sleep past 6:00 a.m.
  • I bought blue jeans on sale at Costco (sign 1). Then I discovered they had a stretchy waist band (sign 2). After trying them on, I decided to keep them (sign 3).
  • The candles on my birthday cake indicate that I missed any chance to have a mid-life crisis.
  • I find myself using phrases like “Back in the day,” “In my time,” and “I don’t understand young people today.”
  • Putting on a sweat shirt and pants after supper makes me happy. If supper is before 6:00, then I’m even happier.
  • If I fall asleep warm and pain-free, then it’s been a GOOD day.
  • I often awake at 2:00 a.m. to ponder the problems of the world.
  • And staring at the dark ceiling does not generate any solutions.
  • I lift with my legs.
  • I try not to lift at all.
  • I think before bending over . . . and then consider what else to do while I’m down there.
  • I watch athletes and think: “They’re going to regret THAT in thirty years!”
  • I no longer know all the answers. Some days I forget the questions.
  • God has used the years to make me wise enough to know that I’m not wise enough.

So I’m growing older—if not always up. MOST days it beats the alternative.

Comfort Food

Comfort Foods“Comfort food” first appeared in the 1972 Webster’s Dictionary. The phrase describes food that promotes a feeling of well-being and contentment. We often associate these foods with pleasant, childhood memories.

Comfort cuisine typically features a high sugar and carbohydrate content: sugary desserts, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches, or pizza. And chicken soup is always good for the soul.

Comfort food also plays an important role in the Bible. In the Old Testament, breaking bread with others was a covenantal act of faith. Manna fed the Israelites in the wilderness. The Psalmist described God: Preparing a table in the presence of mine enemies. The Jewish people described God’s coming kingdom as a Messianic Banquet.

In the New Testament, Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Christ did some of his best work while sitting around a table with his disciples. The only miracle recorded in all four gospels (other than the Resurrection itself) was the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. On their final night together, Jesus shared with his friends a last supper. When Christ appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection, he asked them for something to eat.

Comfort food continues to be an important part of church life today. Congregations gather each Wednesday for a Family Night Supper. We ask God’s blessings upon our meals before eating. In worship, we remember Christ’s words of institution as we partake of the loaf and cup of Holy Communion. A people of faith are also mindful of others’ needs and share their resources so that all might be full.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God would grant us our daily bread. This is not only a prayer for life’s physical sustenance but also a petition that our Lord will fulfill our every need. Jesus knew that we do not live by bread alone but by the living Word of God. The best comfort food satisfies both the body and the soul.

Those who feast on God’s Word find a comfort that this world cannot give. Nothing else will ultimately satisfy our hunger within.

Radical Hospitality

Ten years ago I visited my very first Brazilian Steak House. I’m not claiming that it was heaven on earth, but you could see the Pearly Gates from there! The food was wonderful, but the service was even more impressive. Teams of wait staff catered to our every need: water glasses filled, clean plates provided, side dishes replenished.

They even provided each guest with a two sided card. The red side meant you did not need anything. The green side indicated you wanted more food. Whenever I flipped the card from red to green, waiters rushed to the table.

I thought this was a great idea. So . . .  I took one of the cards home  and demonstrated its use to Tracy. Yeah, it didn’t work. After a brief discussion about my mental health, the card disappeared, never to be seen again.

Businesses recognize that hospitality is good business. Organizations invest large sums of time and money in Hospitality Training so that their employees make customers feel special. The result is a loyal clientele with repeat business.

Hospitality is also a vital aspect of the church’s life together. We love others because we have first been loved by God. Believers are challenged to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us. We are invited to a lifestyle of radical hospitality with a Whatever It Takes mentality to make others feel at home within the body of Christ.

The actual practice of Christian hospitality occurs in the ordinary, humdrum, daily business of life. Simple acts of graciousness and kindness can make an eternal difference in others’ lives.

In Hebrews 13:1-2, the author encourages the church:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

I’m not suggesting the person sitting next to you at church is an angel, but then again, who knows? Maybe there really are times that we entertain angels unaware.

Other times we have the opportunity to be angels ourselves.

You’re Only Old Once

YOure only Old OnceTheodor Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—published You’re Only Old Once! in honor of his 82nd birthday on March 2, 1986. It was one of the last books he wrote before his death in 1991.

The subtitle of the book reads: A Book for Obsolete Children. It is a poignant yet humorous examination of aging. The book’s dust jacket asks:

Is this a children’s book? Well . . . not immediately.

You buy a copy for your child now and give it to him on his 70th birthday!

Children of ALL ages will enjoy the book. It provokes both laughter and tears. While turning the pages, Dr. Seuss teaches us some important lessons about growing older.

I will let you define when “old” occurs. Like those warnings on car mirrors, however, it’s closer than it appears! One person told me, “I knew I was going to get old—I just didn’t realize it happened so young!” Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened!

I’m not sure who first said it, but growing older is NOT for sissies! However, we believe that our Lord is with us in every age and stage of life. Too often we look forward to the future or reminisce about the past rather than living for God in the present. The only time we can serve God is TODAY.

The Bible also challenges older adults to continue a life of fidelity and service. There is no earthly retirement plan for Christians. But the benefits are out of this world!

Psalm 92 declares:

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming,

‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is not wickedness in him.’

I like another version of this Psalm that says the mature person of God is ever full of sap and green! An older man or woman of God is green and sappy—not a bad combination!

We are called to serve God in every age and stage of life. We honor those who are older than us for their wisdom and example. As pioneers of faith, they blaze the path into a future. In turn, we are pioneers for others.

You’re only old once—make the most of it while you can.