Preaching as Pastoral Caring is the thirteenth in a series of books devoted to presenting examples of preaching excellence from parishes throughout the Episcopal Church.
This volume addresses the difficult and essential area of pastoral preaching as a kind of spiritual leadership in which compassionate healing and courageous confrontation are experienced not as polar opposites, but as inseparable.
Read an Excerpt
PREACHING AS PASTORAL CARING
By ROGER ALLING, DAVID J. SCHLAFER
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2005 Roger Alling and David J. Schlafer
All rights reserved.
Bringing comfort, assurance, and hope in the midst of struggle, sorrow, Confusion, and tragedy
Isaiah 66:7–14; Psalm 139:77–12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Mark 10:13–16
Requiem for Jackson Graham Hunter, 1 ½, Heart Attack Victim Mark E. Stanger
A young child's book is composed almost entirely of pictures. When learning to take in the splendor and complexity of life, we need pictures first. Music, tones of voice, reassuring touches all communicate. But as soon as our infant eyes begin to work, we scan for pictures: the smiling face of a parent or another child, the figure of a duck or a tree. Pictures reveal what words cannot yet describe.
Our Bible comes with pages of words and no pictures. But the words themselves paint pictures for us. We know so little about God, about God's purposes—some so mysterious. Sometimes only pictures can be given. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, trying to describe the connection between those who are alive and those who have died, gives not a metaphysical explanation but the picture of a great air show: a trumpet blast, God sailing down from heaven, the dead rising to be gathered in God's embrace, the living floating up for a grand reunion in the bright clouds.
It's the kind of picture a child might understand, and it's about as much as any believer, priest, or saint can understand. A simple, beautiful picture, telling us something so mysterious and wonderful that words can scarcely describe it: that our life together here, the lives of those who have died, and the very life of God are all connected, that the connection is forever. Only if we receive such pictures of God's love like a trusting child, says Jesus, can we even begin to know anything about life or death or the life to come—what he calls "the Kingdom."
The prophet Isaiah offers a picture to a bewildered people unsure of God's presence and purpose in the midst of loss and grief, saying that God will comfort them like a mother breastfeeding a child, like a father enfolding a child in loving arms. It's a child's picture, meant to give the rest of us a hint of what God will do—even in our darkest hour.
The great rose window of this cathedral is another word picture: the prayer-poem of St. Francis of Assisi, the Canticle of the Sun. In this picture poem, St. Francis talks to all creation—even to life and death—calling them "brother" and "sister." "Gentle sister death," he says.
Death may come gently for one who suffers or for one beyond the limit of human effort to help and heal. But for those still alive, death is no sister or friend; it is the intruder, breaking into lives and homes, leaving an ugly mess. Everything important, safe, familiar is ransacked and violated. Death, for us who live, is never welcome. It never comes at the right time.
In our tradition, the picture of a bright reunion in the sky, of the living and the dead meeting God in the clouds, is more than a child's fantasy. We believe that Jesus Christ, born of a human mother and loved by a human father, Jesus—who himself really died—has overthrown the enemy of death. We believe that he has begun to renew the household, bringing all of us, like the good shepherd (there's another picture) slowly into that place we can scarcely imagine: the Kingdom. We have God's own assurance, given in words and pictures, and in the witness of believers, in the unshakable certainty of bonds of love and family, and in Jesus Christ himself, risen from the dead.
In our tradition, we also have the Kingdom picture not just in the future, in the sky, but in a shared meal here and now—the basics: bread and wine, blessed, broken, given, taken in. It's a picture revealing something of the closeness, the intimacy, the nearness of the divine life, the nearness of our shared faith, hope, and love.
Today is a good day to sit with these pictures rather than look for complex answers. Today is a day to receive the love and hope of the kingdom as a small child might, looking at the picture of two parents who have loved completely and for whom hope is real, looking at the picture of friends and relatives standing by, without all the right words but giving comfort by their own loving presence.
Today we remember Jackson, giving thanks for the love he received and gave to Andrew and Marilyn, and to so many others. We surround each other with the bright and certain hope that this love will never be lost but will continue until that final reunion. And in this sacred meal, God already comes to meet us.
As the prophet Isaiah told his suffering flock: "You shall see and your heart shall rejoice. Your bodies shall flourish like the grass. It shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants."
So it will be, as it has been, and as it is now.
Mark E. Stanger is canon precentor and associate pastor at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.
Ezekiel 37:1–14; Psalm 42, Romans 8:31–39, Matthew 5:1–12 Anniversary of September 11, 2001 Donna Dambrot
Who could have imagined the tragedy that beset us one year ago today? Today the world comes together in grief and remembrance. But we who witnessed the planes diving into the towers, who stared in disbelief as flames enveloped the buildings, have been especially marked—our solid footing shaken, our fragile certainties crushed. Time may restore some sense of the life we enjoyed before, but it cannot eradicate the sense of violation at our very core.
Some of us witnessed the towers from afar. Others were en route to offices downtown and witnessed victims falling through the air from windows in the sky. Maybe you made your way down flights of stairs as rescue workers walked past you on the way up. Perhaps you were one of thousands fleeing through thick, black air. For those who lived downtown, the sanctity of "home" was invaded by debris crashing through windows and by white ash leaving residue on household belongings. Some of us have lost loved ones, friends, co-workers.
Many say it is time to move forward. But before we can do that, we need to tell our stories, name our losses. Our stories have become part of the fabric of our histories; they cannot be forgotten. They chronicle lives that share a common denominator. We need to honor, to acknowledge these stories. They are sacred passages worthy of embrace.
We also need to reconcile what happened last September 11 with our questions. Not so much to answer them as to understand our sense of bewilderment and, hopefully, to arrive at a point where we meet God in the struggle. Our lives are a pilgrimage toward the holy, a journey to enter that sacred ground where we might find God within. The psalmist proclaims it well: "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God."
How could this have happened? Where was God? Why did some die, others not? These questions are not specific to the horror of September 11. With the psalmist, we cry out, "When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, 'Where is your God?' " Our questions and doubts linger in the air, sparked anew by misfortunes and catastrophes that intersect with our customary ways and means. We forget that life is never in our control. We cannot map out the events that will shape our futures. But we can pose the questions.
That is where Ezekiel found himself, in a valley of dry bones. In the midst of Ground Zero we are confronted with the Holy One, who asks us, "Can this place of desolation and horror see life again?" Ezekiel stands in the barren wasteland of death and destruction. You might think that Ezekiel poses these questions to God, as we do. But no, it is God who does the asking. In our grief we forget that we are the hands of God's will, the voice of the holy. Our arms rebuild and reconstruct, transform and make new again. Our voice contains the wind of the spirit, the ruach that is the life force of God, and through it the means of life restored and transformed. In the vision of dry bones brought to life is the hope of restoration, the assurance of God's abiding presence even in the most desolate, hopeless vistas. The story of Ezekiel is the promise that God seeks us out, offering the power of his spirit, the promise of renewal, and the strength of individual responsibility. The story of Ezekiel is the hope of resurrection life itself.
Resurrection life promises us the presence of God in Christ. In it we are certain of the future, and by it we are offered the comfort of a caring God. Paul's words in Romans are clear: nothing—not hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword—nothing can keep us from that place where we come face to face with God.
Jesus Christ himself tells us this. It is not that we will not suffer or mourn. We will; we do. But Christ promises that those persecuted will inhabit the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted. And Jesus also empowers us to act of our own volition. He directs us to be merciful, pure in heart, meek in his love. He challenges us and promises us at the same time. We are given eternal life in Christ; the grace of that is available to us each day. Imagine that!
Donna Dambrot is associate for parish life and pastoral care at St. Luke in the Fields, New York City.
SANCTIFYING WHAT HAS BEEN DESECRATED
Service of Healing after Discovery that Deceased Loved Ones Had Remained Unburied Patricia Templeton
We gather tonight for a service the likes of which none of us have ever experienced. We know how to celebrate a life; we know how to mourn a death. Even when we experience those for the first time, Scripture and the prayer book speak to what is happening. The wisdom of those who have already walked those paths guides us and helps prepare us for what is ahead.
But nothing has prepared us for the revelations of the last two weeks. There are no guides for what to do when we discover that the bodies of those we love—bodies that we trusted had been treated with dignity and had been lovingly, prayerfully laid to rest—have instead been desecrated. Nothing has prepared us for the brutal reopening of grief and anguish, now layered with anger and guilt.
What we do know is that in times like these, the people of God come together to ask for God's help and to comfort one another. And so we are here tonight. We also know that Scripture tells us our bodies are sacred. The first chapter of the Bible tells us we are created by God in God's own image. The apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to use them to glorify God.
We also know that in Jesus, God became embodied, taking on bones and flesh and blood, making holy what it means to be human—both to live and to die. When Jesus died, great concern was shown for his body; it was treated with dignity and respect, laid to rest with prayers and love. That is why Mary Magdalene was so distraught when she discovered that Jesus' body was gone from the tomb on Easter morning. She did not immediately respond with joy, believing that he had been resurrected. Instead she was anguished, believing that someone had taken the body of the one she loved and had desecrated it. She reacted that morning as we have reacted to the atrocities that have occurred at Tri-State Crematory.
Something I read this week observed that it may not matter to the dead what happens to their bodies, but it matters greatly to the living. It matters because their bodies are still sacred vessels; it matters because they belonged to those we love; it matters because as members of the body of Christ we remember and honor them.
So we gather to show our respect and love for those sacred bodies that have suffered such great indignity and desecration. We come to reclaim them, to bless and sanctify them. We come because we know that God makes holy what has been profaned. We come to ask God to do that tonight, to bless them and to bring home again those who have been lost. We also come to begin the healing of our anguished spirits because the desecration of these holy bodies is a desecration of us all.
In a few moments we will pray a litany of blessing and healing. Then those who desire may come forward for the laying on of hands and anointing with holy oil. In that anointing, we pray that broken spirits and broken bodies—our own, those of loved ones, or of any suffering member of Christ's body—may know the power of God's blessing, healing presence.
Then we will gather around the table for the Eucharist, a remembrance that God is present with us in the earthly and material body of Christ, broken and given for us and for those we love. As we pray we will be reminded that though the bodies of those we have loved have not been laid to rest as we had thought, the spirits that occupied them now have a dwelling in that place where there is no more pain or suffering, where God has wiped away every tear.
Finally, we come to proclaim the consoling words of St. Paul that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—including the atrocities of the past two weeks—will be able to separate us or our departed from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Patricia Templeton is rector of St. Dunstan's Church, Atlanta, Georgia.
WHY THIS STORY YET AGAIN?
Good Friday Thomas Eoyang
This story yet again. Told in excruciating detail. Why do we do it? We tell ourselves the short version every Sunday, but this week we relive every moment: the inconstancy of the crowd, the betrayal by Judas, Peter's cowardice, the injustice of the trial, the gruesome torture and death. Why do we do this? I suggest we tell ourselves this story for good and healthy reasons. The story invites us to feel more deeply, to understand more broadly, and to speak more truthfully.
Certain words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan seem apt on this occasion. When he heard of the death of President Kennedy, the former senator from New York (who himself died not long ago) said: "I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually." At least half of us remember that weekend, forty years ago this November, when our hearts were broken. When we lost that handsome, eloquent young man with the beautiful family who held out such hope, such promise for a future of idealism and culture, progress and freedom. I cannot imagine how much worse the heartbreak was here in Boston. No matter how cynical we have since become, no matter how sentimental the reporting gets, we still feel a twinge every time some fresh tragedy happens to that family.
This comparison could be overdrawn. We gather here to come to know Jesus, to hear, as the Fourth Gospel says, that Jesus is a friend of ours; so we know full well that John Kennedy was no Jesus. I recall that weekend of heartbreak only to give the merest hint of what Jesus' followers must have gone through when they lost their young man, someone who held out such hope, such promise—not just for a new era, but for a new way of being human, a new sense of what justice on earth could look like, a new relationship with God. What heartbreak they must have gone through, and what heartbreak we go through also, when we see that we do not always realize this new way of being human, that we so often stumble and fail to live into this new relationship with God. When we tell ourselves this story at such length during this most holy week, we remind ourselves of our own inconstancy, betrayal, cowardice, and injustice. We don't just remember a heartbreak from long ago, we break our hearts anew and feel it deep in our bodies and souls.
The heartbreak of this day calls us also to understand the human condition more broadly, beyond our narrow individual horizons. The story of Jesus' passion is not an individual or local story. It took place at a moment of historical time when the greatest empire of its day exercised unprecedented domination, imposing a cultural hegemony so wide and powerful that it affects us still. The death of this obscure carpenter's son had everything to do with political and economic oppression, with the forces of human history and cultural collision. As we look around us, in our own time, we realize we still contend with these same forces—all of us. It is not only the Irish who are experienced in the ways of heartbreak.
Excerpted from PREACHING AS PASTORAL CARING by ROGER ALLING, DAVID J. SCHLAFER. Copyright © 2005 Roger Alling and David J. Schlafer. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
PREACHING AS PASTORAL CARING
INTRODUCTION: The Integral Connection of "Pastor" and "Preacher"
1 Bringing comfort, assurance, and hope in the midst of struggle, sorrow,
2 Giving voice to community celebration and praise on occasions of joy and
3 Offering strategic words of encouragement and inspiration for faithful
work and witness
4 Providing challenging stimulus to spiritual growth through effective
5 Setting issues of communal, social, economic, and political life in
theologically informed perspective
6 Reflecting Professionally on Preaching Pastorally