It is beginning to look as if we might actually have some Spring this year after all here in the northern tier of states, even though I know the weather has been harrowing for many of you.

But this week, perhaps many of us don’t have weather on our minds, after all.

Some of us will be choosing our words especially carefully, given the tragic events at Virginia Tech University. Perhaps for many of you, deciding what the homiletical focus will be this week is a no-brainer; for me, I yet don’t know what I will do.

The lectionary this week offers the conversion story of Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, a praise Psalm, a strange little vision from Revelation, and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance on the beach (“Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”)

Thoughts today are that I will still go with the gospel as planned. As the week unfolds, that may change.

How about you? When a tragedy happens in the midst of a preaching week, what do you do? Do you change focus altogether and talk about the tragic event, or do you address it in the prayers and preach what you planned–assuming you have planned ahead of the tragedy?

60 thoughts on “Tuesday Lectionary Leanings:Maybe Springtime Edition

  1. I am going with Paul, as planned,and will address the shooting as well as the storm we had this week, with its own deaths in the neck of the woods of our church. I began playing with the idea of being uprooted. Saul is uprooted by his encounter on the road, as trees have been uprooted by the storm, as lives have been uprooted by the shooter at Virginia Tech. Where is our Resurrection hope? And how do we rejoice in the midst of grieving?No conclusions, just starting thoughts.

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  2. I’m going with Paul, too. Not sure how I will tie it all in; of course will discuss Virginia Tech. That may hit closer to home than I had expected–I used to live in that general area, and I’m trying to find out from TO if any of his friends attended VT. I don’t think that we can simply slot tragedies like this into the prayrs. It’s hard to find time and heart to rewrite a sermon when you yourself haven’t processed the tragedy yet. But I learned a valuable lesson as an intern in 2001; my supervising pastor did not address 9/11 in her sermon on the 16th (the Sunday after). Sh was seen as cold-hearted and uncaring, as out of touch. Her seaoning was that she didn’t have time to rewrite the sermon…it was only when I volunteered to take it on (with the help of the music director) that we had a prayer service before that worship service. Yes, she taught me what NOT to do!Isn’t this what our congregations are hungry for? A way to try to understand, to cope with the tragedies of life, large and small? To me, this is a large part of why I became a pastor–to be with people as they work through, come to terms with, personal and more public pain. Off my soapbox now and studying Paul…

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  3. I am going with Earth Day. I am working out what Easter’s transformation means for the Earth. THink I will use both Paul (a story of repenting, turning away) and PEter (doing something differently with surprising results). See my early thoughts for more. I just hope a sermn grows out of those thoughts.

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  4. Your supervising pastor had already written her sermon for the 16th before the 11th? Yes, you learned a lot there…On the other hand, you have to judge how close to home the event feels to your community. I assumed, as a relatively new pastor, that the explosion of the space shuttle in 2003 would affect people the way the Challenger hit me in 1986. I added a prayer of remembrance, a poem and a hymn to the service. No one said a word about it, and the musician behaved as if I had done a very shocking thing by adding the hymn. I guess you have to put your pastor hat squarely on your head, rather than your personal hat, then ask you gut what is right for your particular community.

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  5. I am just covering the shooting in prayers. Unlike 9/11 which HAD to be the focus of the sermon, this event gets overblown to change my sermon in this context. If we were a college town it would be different.OTOH, how many people preached on Columbine the Sunday after it happened? IT was being heavily discussed but I don’t remember it being tin the sermon.

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  6. We are in a college town but I doubt very much that the shooting will make it into my sermon. The prayers of the people, absolutely (I don’t consider this something lesser, or something rote, certainly not something I consider as merely “slotting” tragedies into). Once, after a school shooting a number of years ago, I wrote the names of all the victims on little slips of paper and passed those out to the congregation. During the prayers of the people, when I offered prayers around the shooting, the members called out the names they had on their slips. Sometimes I find it can be more powerful for the people together to address our tragedies to God in prayer than for the pastor to address them in sermon to the people. For me, it totally depends on my sense of the Spirit, the congregation, and the moment.9/11 we addressed head-on, with a prayer service on 9/12 and then a sermon entirely focused on it on 9/16. (My original sermon title, on the parable of the lost coin, was to be “Let’s Party!” – no longer seemed appropriate!).At any rate, I’m preaching John, and calling it “What We’re Freed For.” I’m currently looking at how Peter’s three affirmations in contrast to his three denials, and how what Christ did could free him from guilt and for love.

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  7. Songbird, I was in Washington, DC, during 9/11; the congregation had a large proportion of former and current military/government/diplomatic workers, and those who weren’t, had family who were. It was very close to our hearts. The reaction to her lack of response to it (from the congregation) was not good.Gord, thanks for the reminder about our personal hats vs our pastor has. As it is, I am serving in a university town. Of course, since I am in Canada, VT is getting less play here than in the States. So I will talk about it, but it won’t be, I don’t think, a major focus.One of my preaching professors used to say that you should never step over the Sunday morning paper on your way to the church…

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  8. Earthchick, that is a really touching idea – and seems like a profound way to make it real. Did people just start reading the names or did you explain it?RP, your former pastor really missed the mark. I hope she too learned from that.The 16th was my first official Sunday here, but the congregation had already planned a reunion for that day with 5 of the previous ministers here, etc… so we did prayer vigils throughout the week, and a special prayer on that Sunday but reserved the 9/11 sermon for the following week.I am not sure what this week has in store. I am about to read this week’s Year of the Bible assignment and hopefully will be led to God’s Word Proclaimed.

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  9. I am assisting minister this Sunday, which is a festive day in our congregation — our synodical bishop will help us dedicate our new sanctuary. So it’s going to be a bittersweet day, to be sure, acknowledging this tremendous tragedy in the midst of a day of joy.

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  10. I remember my preacher/mentor/friend’s Sept 16, 2001 sermon vividly. It was the first Sunday after I ended my internship, so it was my first Sunday “in the pews” for over 15 months. The OT lectionary that day was Jeremiah 4.The sermon was brilliant. Comforting, strong, non-judgmental, and truly Word.I had lots of friends in your postition that day ws, (first Sunday of first call) I prayed and prayed for them.

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  11. will smama, I explained it first. I had gotten the names out of Newsweek, I think (I believe this was the Jonesboro shooting), and I passed them out to whoever was willing to read them. Then in the prayer, at one point I said something like, “And we pray for the families of the victims, who we name before you now,” and I paused, and people called them out. [I can’t remember if I had a designated order, or if people just called them out as they were inclined.]

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  12. I’m with Gord and the earth day theme…there are several cool sites for support on “text this week”…The one focus that may related to the Va tech tragedy is that we emphasize the connectedness of all parts of our world under/by/ with God our creator on earth day–the contrast of yahoo’s “he was a loner” title really hit me with its contrast.

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  13. I too have a post 9/11 sermon story. I was in seminary, in NYC at the time, and so was in the city (thogugh miles away) that day.I went to my home church that weekend, where the interim pastor preached his last sermon– and did not address the tragedy except in the prayers. People were puzzled and hurt. The following Sunday, the 23rd, a lay preacher preached– and ALSO did not address 9/11. People were furious. I happened to be scheduled to preach the following Sunday, 9/30, and though it seemed odd, I preached on the tragedy (I used John 15:13, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. It was not an easy sermon to write, it probably was not very coherent, but people appreciated their grief being spoken aloud.Peace,Mags

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  14. I like the idea of “uprooted”… and hope.I posted on theodicy a while ago (during my OT class and a discussion on Job…) and if it would help it’s here. (though I feel like I am bringing coals to Newcastle as I read your “seed ideas.”d

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  15. I’m off this week, but am finding the dialogue about how to handle such things helpful in worship and praying for those to will be doing so.I was supposed to preach at the weekday Eucharist at the Cathedral in San Diego on 9-14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, but was trapped in Portland where I was teaching that semester when the airport shut down. In retrospect, that was a v. good thing, because I was so aware of the crusading, anti-Muslim origin of that feast (otherwise a favorite) that I felt called to say something about the problematic Christian history in that regard. And no matter how carefully I phrased it I think I would have ended up hurting people who weren’t ready to hear it. (Could have done it in a very small and unique community that completely shared my perspective, like Journey in Portland a couple years later, but not in most places and def. not there). I don’t remember the details, but I do remember being stunned by the power of a sermon not long after 9-11 by a fellow seminarian from NYC whose former apt. and many friends were very close to Ground Zero. He somehow wrapped together his grief and the depth of the evil and tragedy with a commitment to moving toward reconciliation and forgiveness, in a completely non-sentimental way…wish I remember now how he did it. In a similar vein, as I saw all the blogged prayers for the victims and their families and wondered if anyone would be praying this week for the soul of the shooter as well. (Or some variation on that for those that don’t pray for people who have died–his family maybe). I think it would have to be phrased very very carefully to acknowledge and in no way minimize the evil and tragedy of the action, but that it would be a good thing to do since he too was a beloved, wounded child of God … maybe relevant to Peter, and even Judas, come to that…very easy for me to say when I’m not on the firing line, of course. But I am curious if anyone is thinking about anything in that line, and how it will be approached.I’m thinking of this partly because a friend who teaches public school had a very painful experience post-Columbine at an assembly where the father of Cassie, the girl who said she was a Christian before she was shot, spoke. He apparently went on at length praising her and other popular, clean cut “good” kids and dissing all goth-dressed, gaming outsiders, including students she loved whom she saw visibly withering and shutting down as they listened from the back rows.

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  16. It depends on the tragedy. I usually will lift the particular situation and people in prayer. On 9/11, I totally redid the bulletin and what I had planned to preach. This was a national crisis. This Sunday, I have a baptism and will probably focus on Acts 9.And I know prayers will be with the University, victims and their families, and the shooter’s family.

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  17. Hmm. I think I’m including the VT tragedy in the prayers. Thanks for the good ideas regarding that.I’d been thinking I would concentrate on the “picnic on the beach” aspect of the gospel, not so much the “feed my lambs” part. Not sure where I’m going with it, but I love the story.

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  18. There’s no way to say this that doesn’t sound horrible judgmental, but I cannot imagine NOT addressing 9-11 the Sunday following. Wow. I remember scrapping the lectionary for that day and preaching with Psalm 46 and Romans 12:9-21 (do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good). Our ideas of what is a “national” tragedy are certainly colored by media coverage, so even though I am not in a college town and am on the opposite end of the country from VT, I still think it warrants some word from the pulpit, and certainly in the prayers. I like the weaving of loner-vs-connection mentioned earlier. There could also be some possibility in the Revelation text: Jesus is “slaughtered” to end violence, in opposition to the slaughter at VT.

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  19. I’m not in the pulpit til Mother’s Day, but I can’t imagine Pastor Jefe will not at least address the tragedy at some point in the sermon. He does pretty well with these things. I do agree that at the very least, one needs to seem aware of what’s happening in the world. Otherwise, it’s easy to become irrelevant!

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  20. I was still in seminary in September, 2001. That following Sunday was the first week of Sunday School, and I missed the sermon, as I was headed upstairs with a group of 5th and 6th graders. I’ll never forget the enormous attendance that week. We expected perhaps half of that age group as listed on paper to turn up on a Sunday. We had virtually all of them and more. That class remained large and active the whole year, to my amazement, bonded if not by their own feelings about 9/11 then by their parents’ intense need to be in church that first Sunday.The Sunday after Hurricane Katrina I preached stories of the hurricane, and I went off lectionary the following week to talk about it again, given that the previous week had been Labor Day and a small attendance. In that case, of course, it was not just the disaster but the response that needed to be preached.

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  21. Hey, we’re on the Textthisweek.com resources for this week (the special section on resources for VT). Did you do that SB? The collective wisdom of th group is recognized…Me, I’m just a spectator.

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  22. I can’t imagine not including VT in my sermon this week.Of course, I live in Virginia. I’m still waiting to hear who we may know that was involved (many young people go to Tech from my area, many members are alumns)… I’m still very shaken up by it all (I drove by only hours after with cop cars whizzing by, not a clue what had happened until hours later). The sermon that was actually done a week ahead of time is out; one focusing on the Resurrection, the Easter Reality, is in. Psalm 30 is my dear, dear friend this week. Joy comes with the morning.

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  23. I have just stumbled upon this site and your comments by way of Textweek.com. I actually haven’t use the site for quite some time, but was very interested to see what is available regarding assistance in dealing with the tragedy at Virginia Tech in worship this Sunday.Each of your comments have been helpful. I will pray for the Spirit to lead each of us as we seek to be faithful to the Gospel and relevant to the needs of the world.Thanks for letting me hop in for a moment.Blessings!

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  24. I wrote to Jenee Woodward ofText Week about this discussion — hope that was okay. I am not preaching, will be with our granddaughter instead. If I were and may add this to my blog, I would do something on the Last BBQ and how we return to the familiar in times of grief. The disciples go back to fishing. They discover Christ in his cooking for them. Reminds me of God sewing clothing for Adam and Eve after they get kicked out of the Garden.

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  25. I’m with Gord and Quaker Pastor on Earth day. I even found a wonderful tapestry of the Celtic tree of life at the Renaissance Faire to use a sermon illustration. But because I have families with college students I must speak of the tragedy at VT as they are shaken. “If that can happen at VT it can happen at my child’s school.”And indeed, I can still do that, as the Celtic tree of life is depicted encircled by all of creation. It signifies life and death, beginnings and endings – the interconnectedness of all things. Now to connect these things with the lectionary . . .

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  26. I like the idea of having the people read the names in the POP, earthchick. Much more helpful to have the congregation do this and learn they have the ability to do something (rather than the foist it all on the pastor).My bishop will be on his official visit, so he’s got the pulpit. It will be interesting to see what he does.

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  27. I will be focusing on Paul this week, and the thought that occurred to me is this: is asking Ananias to come and pray over Paul akin to asking a VA Tech student to come pray over the shooter (NPR released his name on my way home with The Child, but I can’t remember it)? Paul wasn’t just bickering with followers of The Way – he was actively persecuting them and in some cases (Stephen) encouraging execution. Of course, I don’t know that I can be nearly so blunt in the pulpit come Sunday. I will definitely address the issue, but not sure how just yet. It seems to me that the shooter was a child of God gone horribly, terribly astray into sin – and God is grieving the consequences of what has been done. I can’t get the image of God weeping out of my head. When will we dance again?

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  28. I’ve been doing some real thinking today, as well as looking in often to see what others are thinking.I can’t get away from the question “Do you love me?” (Remember the scene in Fiddler on the Roof with Tevye and his wife?)Jesus’ response to the answer “Lord, you know I do.” is always an action. Feed. Tend. Feed some more. We do not show our love for God or live out our call to discipleship in a vacuum. They are lived out with each other, often in caring for one another or allowing ourselves to be cared for.That’s as far as I got today…

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  29. Here is what Nikki Giovanni said at the service today: “We are Virginia Tech. We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. WE are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. We are strong enough to know when to cry and sad enough to know we must laugh again. We are Virginia Tech. We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, but neither do the invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Appalachian infant in the killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy. We are Virginia Tech. The Hokier Nation embraces our own with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech. “

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  30. I got here via textweek and am very thankful for all your prayerful thoughts. I am not preaching the Sunday service, but am preaching the Friday communion vespers. I was planning to focus on the Revelation text (since we hardly ever use the Revelation text), and am struck by two images here that have also been in my mind. Is anyone praying for the family of the shooter? And, I can’t get “Jesus wept” out of my head. I think I’ll stick with Rev. 5 (where Christ is glorified) and add a lectionary departure with Rev. 21 (he will wipe every tear from their eyes). We are in a college town and will certainly be focused on this in the days and weeks to come. The pastor preaching Sunday has already scrapped the planned sermon, and we will also include VT and all touched by this in our prayers.

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  31. You all have such good comments. I really like the idea of including names on paper and inviting others to share during the prayer time. Earthchick,if you don’t mind, I’d like to borrow or adapt the idea for this week. My plan had been to focus on Earth Day and the Revelation text (part of a series). My tentative title is “Every Creature was Singing.” Borrowing from the “he was lonely” image, I may try to find connections between John’s vision of all of creation singing praise and our current reality where so many are weeping. As I write this, the hymn, “My life flows on” (also known as “How can I keep from singing”) feels like it may be appropriate. Peace and prayers to all who are working with the tough parts of ministry.

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  32. I think something in the sermon and prayers should be touchpoints with this tragedy. I will probably stress Saul’s being asked “Why are you persecuting me?” and Peter’s being asked “Do you love me?” as mirror opposites of the same thing–caring for others, loving others, is loving our Lord, too. When I neglected to mention the Amish girls’ murders last fall in my sermon (I live in Pennsylvania), it was noted by a few folks who truly needed to hear the Word of God in that horrific situation. So, I would rather err on the side of grace, and bring grace-filled words to hurting people–I won’t ignore the news events this time around.

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  33. What may be hard to understand is that tragedies are national. For example awful though what happend in Virg tech is, it’s not headline news here. Neither was Hurricane Katrina (except at the beginning and mostly because most Europeans have an unrealistic view that all Americans are white middle class – so the pictures of the poor and the refugee kind of situation they foudn themselves in shocked europe profoundly)9/11 was international of course, but even more so was the tsunami. I found I couldn’t watch it -I had to take a news fast – because all I could do was to pray for the families of the victims. I doubt very much that the tragedy in the USA will be mentioned in churches here, and it certainly won’t change the services at all.But I think that’s to be expected. I mean when the Estonia sank here in the Baltic did your churches take a minute of silence to remember the dead? We did; but there again it was close to home, and we claimed it as our tragedy. Please don’t judge us too harshly for this.

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  34. The more I ponder this meaningless violence, especially in light of the fact this was committed by a fellow student, it is a reminder that the power of sin is endemic and systemic. Our congregations look to us to put “meaning” around these kinds of tragedies. But we cannot really give it “meaning” – we can only frame this in terms of God’s presence in times of suffering.My husband is a Hokie and so is his cousin. This is hitting a bit too close to home for us. But, he told me this morning that he’s never been so proud of his school as he has been this week. The speakers at yesterday’s convocation kept coming back to how the community at VT has pulled together to take care of each other. This is where we can find the Gospel – God comes to us through the community.Paul’s conversion isn’t some individual experience – Christ comes to him through the community of faith. Jesus appears at the Seat of Tiberias to the gathering of disciples, not just to one person. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians – we need the community.We are challenged to remind people that going to church IS important and being in community is not an option for Christians. We have way too much personal private piety in our culture – the “I don’t have to go to church, I can find God on the golf course” mentality. These tragedies are reminders that, as priest and poet John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Here is Donne’s entire meditation – might be something to work with: http://incompetech.com/authors/donne/bell.html

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  35. Almost Rev and Lorna–Thank you for your thoughts.Lorna, I certainly resonate with the idea that some tragedies are national. I have not seen any of the US coverage, for example, mention the terrible shootings at the university in Montreal a couple of years ago. At the same time, I live in a border town and so there is a great deal of interest/concern with the US–and w do have a university.ARA–I may use that John DOnn qquote to connect Paul the vents of this week.PS All TO’s friends and relatives of friends are safe. We are keeping the families who lost loved ones in prayer.

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  36. I’m preaching this weekend as an associate and have a visit from another church considering me for a spot, so this will be an added challenge.I’ve been thinking prior to this about living a life of resurrection amid the normal aspects of our lives–that we are called to be disciples in the day in and day out. This happens in community, arround the table, and never alone. I imagine I’ll contrast the call to live as Easter people in community rather than in living disconnected and alone. Alone we live in darkness, and become fearful. Christ’s call is for us to gather around the fire, to share a meal. For me this happened as an undergrad, so thinking about my college days anyway, and this will be helpful to tie in.Just ramblings now, but will gather steam later this afternoon when I sit down to write.Thanks for the insight. I’m a visitor from textweek, so this was helpful.

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  37. I love the idea of the community aspects of the lectionary readings contrasted with an individual piety……and, as our BCP version of the Gospel reading stops short of the three-fold affirmation of Peter, I’m thinking of going with the image of the net holding the fish – “and though there were so many of them the net was not torn.” I will definitely mention the tragedies at VT because I live in No. VA where the shooter and several of the victims are from (although my church is in DC.) And because my church is in DC I think I will have to give a nod to the typical responses of many around this being a gun control problem or general violence issue.But here’s my personal concern: in fact there are two bigger issues here – way bigger than gun control (which I generally favor). 1: this is not just some young man “gone down a path of sin.” Clearly this is a young man who suffered from mental illness that became debilitating. He was referred for counseling but never sought it. Problem: We live in a country that marginalizes the “least of these” over and over again by systematically and institutionally denying the care and support structures needed for folks in need of mental health services and stigmatizing those with this sort of illness. We are ignorant and continue to walk in darkness – this is OUR sin. (BTW mental illness is more prevalent than heart disease and cancer combined.) Talk about the need for community!2. As a church, we still have much work to do spreading the Good News of Resurrection Hope. Obviously, there are many who live in the absence of such hope and need desperately to hear this good news and to have a safety net held firm and fast by Christ and his beloved community of disciples.OK – off my soapbox now…

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  38. I am using the Acts & John passages – 2 favorites. Last week I chose “Things that Change Us” as my title & with what happened in Virginia, it still works – I’m thinking about how the Spirit so often comes to us through and in those things are from outside – and how – for better – or worse – they change us. Of course the question always is, for what purpose?

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  39. As an associate pastor (odd enough after years of being “the” pastor, but I chose this), I don’t preach every Sunday. Lucky me, this one is mine.I’m working with the John passage and the “picnic on the beach” (thanks for such a great phrase) and the title “How Big is God?”. What I want to address somehow carefully and well is that it makes God awful small to say, “God saved me” or “Why didn’t God save —-?” Instead, we have to have a God bigger than our own vision, a God who can still love a world where terror and storm shake our faith, a God whose presence encompasses somehow both sides of a conflict, who loves us in spite or, or maybe because of, our sin and fear. I’m still working on this, and fleshing it out, thinking about how the disciples (mostly) still missed seeing Jesus, even though they had seen him twice since the Resurrection. Their vision of God wasn’t yet big enough…I’m actually (hate to admit this) channeling the Veggie Tales here.

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  40. As a reply to Jennifer+, I just wanted to make it clear I don’t view mental illness as sin. Obviously that was the case here. What I was addressing in my post was the concrete action brought about by that illness. Regardless of the cause(s), I think we all agree that violence is sinful and God grieves when the children of God are violent toward one another. I hope no one thought I was trying to demonize those who struggle with mental illness – I’ve dealt with depression in my own life and would never characterize another’s struggles in that way.

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