09 Mar Who are the Stretcher Bearers?
Ideas for sermons and sermon series can come from almost anywhere. There have been times when I read a book or had a conversation or was asked a question that proved to be the inspiration for a sermon. At other times, I felt the “nudge” of the Spirit and even if I couldn’t articulate why, I knew I needed to pursue a certain theme or explore a particular scripture in my preaching. Designing worship works similarly. Inspiration can come from a multitude of sources. We work hard to prepare and plan ahead, but sometimes it becomes obvious that a last-minute change is needed. Sunday was like that. The entire service had been laid out and the bulletin had been drafted and edited. Then, in a moment of eleventh-hour inspiration, I knew that “Be Not Afraid” would be perfect as our hymn during communion, even though we’d already selected something else. I am blessed and grateful to work with such a talented, gracious, and flexible staff that no one batted an eye or made a peep of complaint. Barbara changed the bulletin, David learned the new piece of music, and Judy coordinated with Janet Gayle and David to create a beautiful worship experience. Thank you, staff!
This week, Jane will be playing Ukraine’s national anthem as the postlude, and the words will be included in the bulletin and online worship resource. This piece of music will offer us a unique way to be in solidarity with those suffering from the war and violence there. I invite you to meditate on the words and pray for our sisters and brothers as well as for peace, as you listen to what will probably be an unfamiliar tune to most of us. Jane’s inspired choice “happens” to coincide with the scripture and sermon on Sunday about loving our enemies. More evidence of the Spirit at work through our gifted and dedicated staff.
I knew I wanted to start 2022 by preaching a series from one of the Gospels, and as we finished Advent it seemed to make sense to continue with Luke, since we’d already covered most of the first two chapters as we anticipated and celebrated Jesus’ birth. One of the things I love most about scripture is the way that, even with passages with which we are very familiar, we see and hear different truths each time we study it. Sometimes we are comforted, sometimes challenged, sometimes perplexed, sometimes insight dawns. This has been my experience week by week as we are journeying through Luke’s Gospel. I pray it has been yours, as well.
Even after we leave one section of text and move to the next, I continue to think about and reflect on what I’m hearing and learning from God’s Spirit. Last week, Dean Randy Hollerith of the Washington National Cathedral wrote a Lenten meditation on the story of the paralyzed man whose four friends lowered him through a roof to reach Jesus. We had, of course, just used that passage in worship a couple of weeks ago, so I was intrigued to see what Dean Hollerith would add to my understanding of the story. It came in the form of a question he posed: “Who are the people in your life who would dig through the roof for you?”
Wow. What a question. What a great lens through which to re-read that story (Luke 5:17-26). The Dean went on to add, “Who are the people in your life who have stood by you, supported you, gone above and beyond the call of duty to believe in you when perhaps you did not even believe in yourself?” I would also point out that these questions have a corresponding side: for whom would you dig through a roof? In whom would you invest your life, going the extra mile and giving more than is comfortable or even reasonable to bless and love them? And are we willing to do it for enemies, as well as friends, as we’ll talk about on Sunday?
Lent is a perfect time to give thanks for the people who have been the “stretcher bearers” in our lives. And to ponder who might need us to pick up a corner of their mat and bear them into the grace of God.