Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thematic preaching topic: time

Sunday marks my first sermon as the new pastor at my new congregation. This is not a lectionary congregation, so I've been working on a sermon series that will cover 4 weeks in September and October. The problem is a preaching hole left by Labor Day weekend. This is not the Sunday to count on a critical mass. Though I'm certainly game for surprises.

I found a text because I had to meet the needs of the worship materials producers. I came to the topic of time because time intentionally marks the boundaries service as an interim pastor. I also came to the topic of time because I was digging for a text and found Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13 referenced in an interim ministry journal. Most pastors go into a congregation with an open end to their time boundaries. My time is not fixed in a congregation, but a definitive boundary is set: whenever the next pastor comes. Typically, in a Lutheran congregation, that takes about 1 year, give or take a few months.

Time drew me in because in every interim congregation, I face a similar statement uttered by congregational leaders. Whenever we talk about an opportunity for ministry, inevitably someone will say "we should wait to do X until the next pastor arrives." At one time, I thought this ministry holding pattern was a good idea. It got me off the hook for a lot of extra work--and why would I want to make things difficult for a colleague who comes and serves after me. However, I think if someone is going to try something new, maybe that time is appropriate. I like to wait as much as the next person, but in the presence of the provocation of the Holy Spirit, how is that not the time to pass on the grace of God in a creative way? Does a pastor have to make a seal of approval on everything that happens in the congregation? I can understand the sentiment that a person, group or congregation would like to have a sense of their new pastor's way of doing things, lest something new openly contradict a technique or philosophy of the new pastor.

Theologian Paul Tillich in his writing/sermon on the aforementioned Ecclesiastes text talks about how God's timing breaks into human timing. Ecclesiastes is a wisdom text that in chapter 3 shares a poem about the breadth of human existence and that it all comes down to timing. Tillich states that Jesus reveals the in-breaking of God's time when he says, "the kingdom of God is at hand," and eventually renders Ecclesiastes' words about human timing as something to reconsider in the light of Christ.

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