Category Archives: sermons

Christ the Foundation

Easter Sermon, 2017, Matthew 7:24-27

When our youngest child was younger, we used to say to him—cute wore off two and a half kids ago.  It usually happened when he had done something just to see if he could get away with it.  And he would smile at us with that look that said, “Yes, but I’m cute and so I get away with it.”  And we’d say, “Cute wore off two and a half kids ago.”    Knowing that siblings often seek ammunition to use against their brothers and sisters, I’m guessing he blamed the older ones for overplaying the cute card and ruining it for him.  We started using that phrase before he could really do math.  If he had done the subtraction he would have realized that two and a half kids ago wasn’t after the first two kids, but at the beginning of our raising our first child. We realized that if we allowed Children’s cuteness to guide us, we would squander our role as parents. Lori and I never verbalized it to each other.  We didn’t read it in a book.  We didn’t hear it in a seminar.  And I’m sure there were some negative consequences with our choice.  But somehow intuitively we decided, cute wasn’t going to be the criteria we used to assess our children’s behaviors.  There is a lot of cuteness with Easter.  Cute Easter dresses and cut little boy outfits.  Cute Easter bunnies and cute Easter chickens.  Cute little flowers and cute Easter bows.  And cute little Easter eggs.  Even a grumpy man like me, I have a cute new tie for today.  But more and more I sense that people looking for something else.

Jesus anticipated a time when he would say—cuteness wore out two and a half Disciples ago.  The parable Jesus told of the wise and foolish builders concludes the great Sermon on the Mount—Matthew chapters 5-7.  It comes close to the beginning of the Gospel in the narrative sequence.  It is the first of five major sections of teachings in the structure of the Gospel of Matthew.  Most biblical scholars agree that the sermon was not something Jesus delivered from beginning to end at one time.  Rather, it was a composition of Matthew—the Gospel writer—who pulled together these teachings and organized them into a comprehensive whole.  Jesus was at the beginning edge of his popularity in terms of the story Matthew was telling. And if Jesus wanted to make his movement work, he could have benefitted from better marketing.  Because early on—Jesus seemed to suggest that cuteness wasn’t really his thing.

Which, by the way, is a lousy thing to do if you’re out to start a religion.  In 2005, Bob Henderson crafted a satirical response to a Kansas Board of Education decision to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in Public school biology classes.  Henderson proposed a new religion the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  It became an internet sensation.  There are books like the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and adherents who call themselves Pastafarians.  There are pictures and t-shirts and lots of cute paraphernalia.  It’s taken off.  If you’re going to start a religion—start cute. Here’s the thing– Jesus really never intended to start a religion.  I know that’s the most ironic thing to say on THE MOST RELIGIOUS SUNDAY of the YEAR for Christ’s followers.  But if you look at what Jesus came to do according to his own words, he came to usher in the Kingdom of God.

Matthew included Jesus’s teaching—many will come in that day and say, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will say—it’s not  the ones who parrot the right words but the one who does the will of God.  And others will say—but look at all the cute things we did—signs, wonders, casting out demons, Jesus will say, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” Jesus anticipated a time when the throng of followers would—one by one—need to make a choice to either take him seriously or go and find a new fad to follow.  Jesus ruled out being cute as the basis for evaluating his Disciples’ lives.

He declared the rule and reign of God over and above the rule and reign of any other.  He declared that God’s way of governing the world was to use power for             building people up rather than keeping people down.  And the moral legislation to which Jesus subscribed points to something bigger than religion.  There’s a part of all religions that’s just about the cuteness—about the differentiation of one’s self from the culture in which one lives. Religions teach people to Dress a certain way, modify eating habits, set the calendar for Holy Days and provide guidance for liturgies and rituals.  Jesus practiced a religion—it’s called Judaism.  He observed the days, maintained kosher—to a point, he certain embraced the narrative of God at work in Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Hannah and Samuel, David and Isaiah.  And he accepted that the religion would be a part of his followers’ lives but he wanted depth of sincere belief.  He wanted something other than cuteness.

It seems that Many Christians have decided the cuteness has worn off.  Religious observance is down.  Religious devotion is down.  A few weeks ago, Family Christian Stores—the largest retailer of Christian Merchandise—announced that it would be closing all of its 240 locations.  After 85 years in business, Christian merchandise has been set aside.  This means a job loss for 3000 employees.  Last year, Lifeway Christian stores—which is the rebranded Baptist Bookstores from decades past—announced that it would close the three locations it operated on Baptist Seminary Campuses.  Imagine that, the Baptist Bookstore can’t keep its doors open on Baptist Seminary campuses.  And I’m not knocking on Baptist.  Disciples never tried opening bookstores.  The struggles of Christian merchandising doesn’t signal the end of Christianity.   People can still shop for Christian books online. And that’s what’s caused the closing of a number of retail bookselling stores.  But, along with selling Christian devotional and educational literature these places sold the cute things that go with religion—like Testamints—the breathe mints meant to evoke the Old and New Testament.

Cute Christianity was all the rage in the 1980s.  Often called attractional evangelism, seeker sensitive churches like Willow Creek in Chicago and Saddleback in California emerged as a cultural force.  These churches grew exponential by eschewing things like church buildings, traditional programming, too many religious symbols drained of meaning, archaic language, inaccessible music, etc. etc.  It’s hard to believe that the church growth movement has been with us so long that over a decade ago one of the founders of the Church growth movement—Bill Hybels was getting ready to retire.  He decided that in order to assess the fruits of his labors, Willow Creek would commission a study of how they had actually done in creating true followers of Jesus Christ.  He commissioned a study.  His study included comparison respondents from other churches around the Chicago area where Hybels and Willow Creek are located.  They hired a professional research company to conduct the survey.  They set up the matrices of what to look at—faithful prayer life, Christian service, financial support of congregation.  When the results came in, Hybels was shocked to discover that far from being the revolutionary movement that produced real Christians by the droves, pound for pound, the medium sized Lutheran Church down the road was measuring up to his own measures better than he was.  To his credit Hybels did not sweep these findings under the rug.  Quite the contrary he was incredibly open and public about sharing these results in 2005.

The loss of Chrstianity’s cuteness frightens a number of us.  It’s certainly scary to people like me who make our living on people buying into and contributing to the ministries of the established church.  But, I’m not sure that Jesus cared so much.   Jesus’s concluding parable does not say the Wise Man built his house with cute trim and pretty furnishings and nice curb appeal.  But the foolish man built his house with drab paint and discount furnishings and unattractive curb appeal.  The wise and foolish builders differ in the material they use for their foundation.

I’ve been there when people poured foundation.  I was a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and got a call—we need help.  I put on the knee high boots, they gave me a long pole spreader and the big truck came and started pouring concrete into the form and my roles was to take the spreader and help spread the concrete around.  Simple right?  I was in my twenties.  I thought it would be a piece of cake.  They started pouring and I started spreading.  Within about 45 minutes my back was hurting, my hands had blisters, and my legs ached.  It’s not what Jesus meant.  What he did mean is that foundation work is hard.  It is messy.  And it can be painful.  It’s not cute.  In a little bit we will sing the chorus from a hymn I love, “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand.”  But it’s important to say that a generic and ascent to believing things about Jesus are true is not the same thing as putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “Whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.  It involves working—doing the work of daily training your mind and heart to follow in the way of Christ through prayer and study.  Doing the work of faithfully serving in meaningful ways.  Progressively allowing Christ to influence every part of your life.  It’s not easy work.  The authority for Jesus to say that putting into action the things that he commands comes from the resurrection.  The surest evidence of Christ’s resurrection is the continued presence of people who faithfully live according to the teaching of Christ.

Once there was a home builder who made the best homes.  She paid careful attention to every detail.  She measured twice, She cut once.  She used the strongest, most durable materials. She studied the plans.  The nails and screws were put in at the appropriate angles.  She had a daughter.  The daughter was her apprentice.  Her daughter knew the demands her mother placed on building to exact specifications and following plans to the letter.  Using the best materials.  The Mother called Her daughter to her one day and explained—I have to leave for a few months, but there is a very nice house I need you to build.  I want you to build it like you have been taught.  Use the highest-grade material.  Cut to exact specifications.  She left the daughter a large sum of money to complete the project and then she left.  With the Mother away, the daughter started taking shortcuts.  She used materials that would look adequate but cost far less.  The home owners, he said, will not know the difference until we are out of sight and out of mind.  She took the money he saved and spent it on herself.  She also cut corners with precision.  She didn’t measure twice and cut once.  If She guessed wrong and came up short, she’d find a way to make things fit.  Sure, she thought, as things settle, or when the storms hit, the home owners would run into problems, but by then they’d be out of sight and out of mind.  This went on until the house was complete.  By all external appearances, the house measured up to the mother’s exacting standards.  But the daughter had learned to mimic good workmanship so that he could pocket the extra money and use the time he saved on herself.  When Her mother came back.  The daughter handed her the keys.  Her mother replied, “Daughter, keep the keys yourself.  This home you have been building is my wedding present to you.  It is yours.”

Whose house are you building?  The wise man built his  house upon the rock and the foolish man built his house.  Jesus was clear—the wise man was building his house.  Whose house are you building.  Living by the teachings of Christ reorients our lives to the Christian hope.  If you are willing to do the hard work to build your life’s house

Blessed Poverty

Matthew 6:19-33

When I was a child, I said to my Father, “I’m hungry.” My father responded, on more than one occasion, “you’re not hungry. You have an appetite.” OK, here’s the thing. When I “have an appetite,” I get pretty grumpy. And when I “have an appetite,” I have a hard time concentrating. In fact, when I “have an appetite,” I can barely think about anything other than my appetite. So, when my father responded to my declaration of appetite by telling me I wasn’t hungry I merely had an appetite, I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember the stories I had heard about his childhood. He knew hunger and thirst and the need for clothing. He grew up dirt poor. He was one of 19 children born into a poor family in East Texas. I told my sixth grade teacher that he had “grown up during the great depression” she disputed my claim. When I went home and sought confirmation he responded, “Sure, the Great Depression was over—it’s just no one had bothered to tell us.” My Dad was born in 1934. I think now I could have made my case. The point was—he knew hunger. He was only ever able to attend one full year of education—his fifth grade year. Every other year he was pulled out for a time so that he could pick cotton just to help his family make ends meet. And even then there was never enough. The biggest difference between his growing up years and my growing up years is this—every time I “had an appetite,” I was living in a home where food was present, where a meal was at most a couple of hours away. I had a father who made sure we had sufficient food. He did not. As I read Jesus’s words, “Do not worry about your life—what you will eat, or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear” the question that confronts me is this: was Jesus talking to people like me or people like my father? Or to both of us?

Context

Matthew 6:19-33 occurs in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The Sermon on the Mount has 5 or 6  sections.  The opening consists of the beatitudes and the instructions to being light and salt.  Then there’s a series teachings on righteousness–that series of teachings that use the formula–of you have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . . teachings.  The fourth section of the sermon on the mount consists of three teachings about piety—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  The fifth section further develop the theme of righteousness.  It consists of several “Do not commands.”  Do not store up treasures on earth, do not worry, do not judge, do not give what is holy to dogs.  The sermon on the mount concludes with a series of analogies—about asking and knocking, and family, and fruit trees, and building foundations.

It seems clear to even the most rigidly literal biblical interpreter that the Sermon on the Mount consists of several teachings that Jesus had offered throughout his life that Matthew has brought together.  Because these teachings probably started out as disparate, didactic episodes, we may not pay attention to the fact that Matthew didn’t just copy/cut/and paste the teachings together.  There are noticeable progressions.  For example, in the last two teachings of chapter 5 Jesus spoke about the movement from—an eye for an eye mentality to a turn the other cheek mentality to a walk the extra mile mentality to the love your enemies mentality.  I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, that the movement described is a movement from unlimited retaliation to limited retalitation to limited love to unlimited love.

Jesus told the Disciples do not store up treasured on earth.  Jesus begins with a teaching concerning wealth and riches.  He said Do not store up treasures for yourself.  No one can serve both God and wealth.  And while this is a difficult teaching to put into practice, we can easily agree that those devote themselves to the accumulation of wealth struggle with ever having enough.  It becomes an all-consuming passion.  It becomes a Kingdom in which people seek to live.  For some, wealth becomes the temple in which they worship.  It becomes the truth that they seek and find.  And as hard as it is, I think we could say—yes, I can live a life free of that sort of obsession and follow God.  Of course, I suspect we all think we could say that because none of us would admit to being wealthy despite the fact that there are large swaths of the world’s population who would regard even the most meager among us as living in luxury.  But, this initial “do not” statement on wealth then goes one step further—where at first he was talking about wealth, now he’s talking about necessities.  Your passion for the Kingdom of God should be more relevant to you than the very things you need to survive. I cannot help but think that my father and I would hear this teaching differently.

Necessities and the Kingdom

For those who have known true hunger, thirst and vulnerability, Jesus words point to our dependence on God. Systematic Theologian Kelly S. Johnson from the University of Dayton has written this—“The prayerful virtue of hope can be extinguished on one side by despair, but it can also wither because of pride, since the proud are already satisfied and have no need to be on the way to anywhere else.  This is the danger of ‘loving fullness’: that, finding security, Christians will forget that their hearts are restless.  Strange as it may seem, it is not untoward for a Christian to believe that a kind of poverty, the kind that makes one have to hope for better, is a gift of God.  The wealthy may avoid arrogance, but their very comfort, the satiation of needs, tempts them to rest in their accomplishments.”

Johnson includes a reflection from Dorothy Day in her assessment of prayer and poverty. She spoke of how Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers movement, would say that when they encountered needs they would pray for God to supply their needs.  And God would supply their needs.  And when God did not supply their needs they  discovered that they didn’t really need it.  Kelly Johnson admits that Day’s reasoning is “circle” but she writes, “It is a virtuous circle rather than a vicious one.  It is the claim of someone who recognizes that Christians need a certain kind of poverty.”  (The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, p. 235).  There are people, like my Father, who learned to trust God not in spite of their poverty but because of their poverty.  And we who are fortunate who have found Christ need a poverty of Spirit that comes with experiencing a dependence on God. When we think of the “Blessed Life” we might be tempted to believe that it is life where a person gets what they want.  Yet, Christ proclaims a blessing that comes when God’s will—not ours—is done.  This version of blessed life challenges and confronts our values and at the same times offers us a way of living that far exceeds our limited ideas of blessing.  Where we might think of blessing as wealth, the Blessed life Christ proclaims is completely dependent on God.

Whose food, water, and clothing do we care about?

At the same time, people like me who have never known hunger but only known appetites, may need to see this teaching in still another light.  We can compare what Jesus said here to the final teaching Jesus offers in the book of Matthew.  Jesus’s last teaching in Matthew comes in chapter 25 verses 31-46.  That teaching uses the analogy of the final judgment to the separation of Sheep and Goats by a shepherd.  He said to each I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked and you clothed me.  When did they see Jesus that way, the Sheep and Goats both reply.  “Whatever you have done to the least, you have done to me.”  So, as with so many of Jesus teachings, this teaching cannot be isolated to suggest that Jesus believed food, water, and clothing were irrelevant.  Jesus knew real hunger and was concerned with the needs of the hungry.  Jesus knew real thirst and was concerned with the needs of the truly thirsty.

In the United States in 2014, 14.6% of households faced food insecurity.  That means there’s not enough food in the home to adequately feed all of the residents.  Texas had the third highest rate of food insecurity at 18% of households (Coleman-Jensen, A., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. “Household Food Security in the United States in 2013.” USDA Economic Research Service, 2014. Web Accessed July 19, 2014.)  Food insecurity isn’t caused by a lack of food.  America—and in fact the world—has sufficient food resources to feed everyone.  The problem is poverty.  The obstacle is the inadequacy of food where it is needed.

From Flint, Michigan to the drought in Western states, water has become an increasingly problematic resource for us.  Yet, solutions do exist.  Over 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt declared, “The western half of the United States would sustain a population greater than that of our whole country today if the waters that now run to waste were saved and used for irrigation,” (quoted in Abrahm Lustgarten and Prorepublica, “A Free Market to Save the American West from Drought.”  The challenge of adequate water like the challenge of adequate food is not the lack of water but the use, misuse and neglect of water.

According to the New York Times Magazine, the largest segment of commercial real estate development has come in the form of self-storage units.  We have accumulated so much stuff, we can’t store it in our homes and apartments and we are willing to pay for have it stored. Elizabeth Kline writing for The Atlantic Monthly stated, “Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.”  (“Where does discarded clothing go?”, July 18, 2014).  Again, the problem isn’t a lack of clothing but what we are doing with the clothing we have.

What we do about food insecurity, clean drinking water, drought in agricultural areas, and the poor rate of recycling is the question of a book study and church-wide conversation.  One that focuses on real solutions, wise stewardship, and honesty.  It’s not the sort of thing that can get resolved in a sermon.  But, here in the presence of God and God’s people surely we can dedicate ourselves to a pathyway of caring.  I believe that in the Kingdom of God those of us who do not have to worry about what we will eat, what we will drink or what we will wear can and should worry about those needs for other people.  People like me who have never known hunger, but only known appetites, can and should extend ourselves for the truly hungry, thirsty, and vulnerable.  If we are to seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, surely caring is where we start.

 

Pictures Worth A Thousand Words

Matthew 6:22-23

The Byzantine Empire’s rulers (330-1453) were Christian. Icons became prominent during the early centuries of the Empire and then became points of contention toward the middle.

The image of Christ in the form of Icons appeared often.  During the reign of Justinian II, in the early part of the 8th Century, the image of Christ began to appear on the reverse side of coins.  Leo the III, who began to reign over the Byzantine Empire in 717 believed the Icons had become idols.  The Byzantine Empire had experienced a couple of humiliating military defeats.  It had suffered and devastating earthquake.  Leo may have thought these were God’s punishments for creating graven images of Christ in violation of the second command.  He and his son Constantine IV set out on a plan of dismantling religious icon.

The movement was known as Iconoclasm—an Icon being a piece of religious art used for spiritual practice and clasm being a suffix to describe crushing.  An iconoclast was a destroyer of icons.  The Iconoclasm controversy contributed significantly to the Great Schism of the eleventh century, the evolving relationship between Church and State in both East and West. Who knew that pictures could generate so many words?

More Controversy over Images

The Iconoclastic controversy was not the last time Christianity would argue over the use of images.  In the 16th and 17th Centuries, England had a vacillating relationship to religious art.  On the one hand, the Church of England prohibited the venation of religious art.  Their prohibition against religion art was undoubtedly a swipe at Catholicism.  This often happens a movement divides itself from the existing institution.  It will chose certain salient ways to differentiate itself from the institution.  You see this in the long side-locks of Hassidic Jews, shaved bald spots on the top of Franciscan Monks, and non-instrumental worship music among the Churches of Christ.  It’s a way for the movement to claim to be purer than the institution it left.  For the Church of England it was the use of art.  Images portrayed in stained glass were discarded in favor of the pure light of reason. At the same time, England wanted to establish itself as a cultural center in Europe and one way to do that was to collect fine art. Truth be told, we still don’t know what to do with images.

Reading the Text

When Jesus spoke about the eye as the lamp of the Body he was NOT talking about religious Art.  In its context this passage has to do with devotion.  The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon recorded in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  Parts of it are familiar to us—the Beatitudes at the beginning, the Lord’s Prayer in the Middle, the instructions to be salt and light, turn the other cheek.  We often do not realize the coherence between the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon is built around a series of contrasts.  The Disciples are supposed to choose one and not the other.  Be light on a lampstand not a lamp under a basket.  Be savory salt not salt that loses its saltiness. Be secret givers not pompous givers.  Subdued spiritualists not showy spiritualists.  Pursue treasures in heaven not treasures on earth.  Serve one master not two masters.  These contrasts culminate with the closing parable used by Jesus.  Those who build their lives around Christ’s teachings are wise builders building on a firm foundation that can withstand the storm.  Those who ignore Christ’s teachings are like the builders building on sandy soil that is destroyed by the storm.

The proverbial statement about light in the body participates in this series of admonitions.   It’s a metaphor meant to emphasize to the Disciples their single-minded devotion to God.  Today we might use a similar visual metaphor and call it focus.  The Disciple is called by Christ to focus on devotion to God and not be distracted by other claims to attention.  It’s a metaphor.  But what if we didn’t consider it simply metaphorically?  What if we considered Jesus’s words literally.

Light

As Protestant Christians, we inherited a bias against using pictures for religious devotion.  Today, you will hear Protestants describe pictorial stained glass described as religious education for the illiterate.  We diminish the importance of symbols because we know how to read.  When many Protestants speak about other Christian families you’ll hear us sometimes say that “Use of icons and statues in prayer dismissed as idolatry.” More than that we have a strong bent toward text.  Spirituality almost always revolves around the reading of scripture and the verbalizing of prayers. I, personally, am so thoroughly verbal that I’ve been known to walk through art museums reading the placards first before deciding if I want to spend much time actually looking at the art work.

I’m not alone making this observation.  Gordon MacKenzie is known for a book about reclaiming creativity in corporate America known as Orbiting the Giant Hairball.  Gordon MacKenzie, an artist who worked for Hallmark cards.  He would go into grade schools and he would talk to each class individually.  “Who in here is an artist.”  In Kindergarten he noticed that all the kids raised their hands enthusiastically. In first grade, the same result.  In second grade most kids raised their hands.  In second and third grades, he noticed more and more attrition.  Finally, be the time he got around to the sixth graders and asked the same question, he noted that only a few kids sheepishly raised their hands.  Culture of literacy had gradually diminished the importance of art.

The reason this matters to us religiously is that Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our mind.  And for Protestants, there’s parts of our minds that we simply don’t use.  There’s hope for us to develop.  Modern neuroscience has revealed the ever adapting nature of the human brain.  Researchers in London studied the region of the brain devoted to memorizing spatial relationships.  They looked at London Taxi Drivers.  They found that those regions of the brain were significantly larger in the Taxi Drivers compared to the normal population.  The longer they had been driving, the larger that region became.    Edward Taub studied the region of the brain that controls the left-hand motions in violinists and non-instrumentalists.  He found that the region of the brain that controlled the left hand (the hand a violinists uses to make the notes of a violin while the right hand controls the bow) is significantly larger in instrumentalists than non-instrumentalists.   Taub has also found that through repeated motions with the stroke patients can enable the brain to create new neural pathways and synaptic connections that reconnect previously paralyzed parts of the body. (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, pp. 32-33)   This research points to hopefully to our abilities to expand our approach to spirituality even later in life.

William Tenny-Brittain’s Prayer for People Who Can’t Sit Still, explains the importance of finding other ways of praying and relating to God.  “Art is especially necessary activity for those of us who can’t sit still.  We need a kinesthetic outlet for the creativity that is pent up within us.  Most of us have had our creative natures caged, packaged, and confined from very early on.”  (Kindle Location 1153).

 Allow Christ to entry into your life through the use of your eyes.  For if Christ is the light of your life, how great is the light in you!

Going Extemporaneous

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a departmental meeting for adjunct and full-time speech faculty for Brookhaven.  The issue of extemporaneous versus manuscript speeches came up.  The crux of the discussion:  manuscript speeches are bad–very, very bad.  Most of the other faculty give very low grades to students who read excessively during their speech. There was a clear desire for the rest of us to grade “read” speeches in a similar way.

The rationale is sound.  Taking the time to write a manuscript is inefficient.  It decreases eye-contact.  It sounds written rather than sounding like speech, etc.  We are the only department that teaches oral communication and therefore we need to insure that students are developing oral skills not merely vocalizing their writing skills.  I was the one objector in the room.

My objection emerges from my experience.  The extemporaneous (i.e., speaking from an outline rather than a manuscript) dogma is what I lived with as an undergraduate.  At no point in either my undergraduate or graduate education was I ever taught how to write for oral communication.  But, there is a need to learn to write for orality.  The one I remember thinking about as an undergraduate was that of professional speech writing.  But there are others situations where it is needed.  Despite the potential for us to need to know how to write for oral communication, we were never taught it.

In Seminary at Brite Divinity School, the overwhelming bias–at least while I was there–was in favor of manuscript sermons.  The reasons we gave for using a manuscript also make sense.  When dealing with theological concepts we do not want to be sloppy with word choice.  Also, a manuscript provides for better time management.  I know to the minute how long a 3 page sermon will last but a half-page outline could be done in five minutes or take as long as an hour.

I adopted the manuscript practice.  On many Sundays I read my sermon word-for-word from the pulpit.  Starting around 2000, I started to memorize (more or less) my sermon manuscript and deliver the sermon with minimal notes.  If I can run through the sermon three times before the first worship service, I can pretty accurately recreate the manuscript from memory.  This stopped as my constant approach in about 2005 when my third child was born.  The lack of sleep made it a lot more difficult.  I’ve recently returned to my  commitment to preach without a manuscript in front of me each Sunday.  But whether preaching from a manuscript with me in the pulpit or preaching from memory and minimal notes, there has usually been a manuscript somewhere that I had prepared before preaching.

So, I had a dilemma.  My speech com undergraduate education and teaching needs pushed for extemporaneous approach.  My homiletics training preferred a manuscript.  My speech teaching responsibilities asked me to give a lower grade to a practice that I myself habitually and intentionally engaged.

In part to relearn how to do extemporaneous speaking and in part to test out the competing claims about mode of delivery, I have made a personal decision to give–as best I can–every speech (sermon, report, homily) in an extemporaneous mode between now and the start of school.  I will chronicle my experiences and draw conclusions based on what I learn.