Frequent readers of the blog will know that I have an inordinate affection for word clouds and especially for wordle.net, which make producing word clouds easy. I have used word cloud in board and vestry meetings. I make a regular practice of turning sermons into word clouds. In both cases, the results are more or less predictable; that is, the benefit is less the revelation of the words - which tend to be clear themes of the lessons, for example - but more the visual display of those themes. The word cloud is an artistic medium.
Last night, however, I decided to test Wordle's power in a less predictable exercise. So I entered every sermon from my first year at St. Francis House and pushed the "create" button. While the results are not, perhaps, a whole lot less predictable than those from a given Sunday's homily, I do think the they are insightful in a slightly different way. Without further ado, then, here it is: my sermon Wordle from my first year at St. Francis House.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Becca Hennen, our graduating senior at St. Francis House wrote this Response to the Gospel for our worship tonight, the last Eucharist of the academic year. Unfortunately, Becca got sick last night and this morning, and was unable to speak at the service; her words were shared in her absence. JRM+
So, let me start by saying that when Fr. Melton asked me to guest preach, I was as skeptical as many of you probably are. I’m no priest or deacon – what do I know about the readings and gospel if a priest or deacon isn’t teaching me about them? So I took some time with the readings and will try to give you a fresh idea of what we can learn from them, which I hope will be as close in layman’s terms as we can get, since I am after all just one of you. (1)
In the first lesson taken from Acts, Paul and Silas come across a slave girl whose trade is fortune telling. What first struck me about this reading was the fact that Paul was very annoyed with her for acting as somewhat of an advertisement for the very thing they were there to do. Maybe he didn’t want the attention, or maybe she was just really bugging the crap out of him – I don’t know, but he casts the spirit out of her. Now, it would seem to me that this would be something to praise – the woman is no longer possessed and is free to live as she pleases. But her owners were basically like what the heck did you do that for? You took away our prime money maker. This seems to oppose what should morally be so. The freedom the Gospel meant for this girl was at odds with her owners’ personal agenda. They imprison Paul and Silas, but then the earthquake sets them free. They proclaim “believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” and the jailer believes. It is a wonder that it takes something literally earth-shattering to get the people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But the point is – the jailer does end up believing.
Based on what I took from the jailer’s belief, I then thought about this reading in relation to John’s gospel. It’s Maundy Thursday and Jesus is praying for his disciples. “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This gospel makes me think about the relationship between a parent or someone we look up to as a child. Jesus is telling us what we should believe, but we answer Him with doubt. I remember when I was younger having older cousins tell me to “enjoy being young, quit wishing your life away, quit wishing you were older, yadda yadda yadda.” Of course, it is that odd sensation of hearing what they are saying, but not believing it and not wanting to believe it. But then, lo and behold, you grow up and wish you would have done exactly what they had said. I remember being in high school, and my little sister who is 7 years younger than me would always try to be older. We were ‘cool’ and she wanted to be just like us. I found myself being that older person who wished she would just stop and enjoy her youth. It’s the cycle that continues with each generation, and inevitably the younger ones will never believe us until they have experienced it on their own. In this way, I think Jesus is praying for us to believe before we experience. That is what faith is after all, isn’t it? If I could, I would go back to my young self and have that blind faith and belief in what my older cousins and parents were telling me. But I didn’t. I learned as I went. Which is okay – you know, that whole free will thing. But Jesus is praying for us to believe before we experience. That we have faith.
I then turn to the reading from Revelation. “See I am coming soon.” “And let everyone who hears say ‘come’, and let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Are we not the ones who are thirsty? Do we hear the call of Jesus? The night before he was handed over, he prayed for us to believe in him. And here in Revelation he is telling us he is coming. Have we found our faith? Do we follow when he comes? These readings and the gospel especially give me a sense of ‘moving on.’ Jesus is moving on to heaven and hopes his teachings were successful. As the semester is ending, we find ourselves in a state of moving on. Summer jobs. Continuing work in grad school. Vacations, trips. It’s considered a ‘break,’ but we really are just moving forward. I’m graduating and am scared to death of what the real world holds. I’ve never been anything but a student. And now it’s my turn to listen to the others who have gone before me who say I’ll survive. It’s time to have faith in the future and the fact that the Lord is with me, as he is with all of you as you continue on this journey. The Lord’s prayer for our belief in Him is one of most importance. It gives me comfort, and I hope it gives you comfort, because he knows us. He knows we need that prayer, and that like the jailer, it may take something earth shattering to shake/find/form our faith, but we will believe. Amen, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Becca Hennen is a graduating nursing student who has spent the last 4 years as part of the St. Francis House Community. She served on the SFH Board of Directors these past 2 years. Becca begins her new position (and post-school life...though she has plans to eventually return for graduate work) at St. Mary's Hospital this summer.
(1) Becca is excessively modest here. In addition to no small amount of prayer and thought, Becca met with her Chaplain twice for extended times in preparation for and review of her homily.
Posted by Jonathan at 11:05 PM
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
This blog (and St. Francis House) have devoted considerable energy in the past year toward reexamining the relationship of Christians and the Church to Scripture, particularly the Christian Old Testament. Duke Divinity School recently sat down three of its current professors (and a former one) to share dialogue around the theme "Forming Scriptural Imagination."
Here is that conversation, with Richard Hays, Ellen Davis, Stanley Hauerwas, moderated by Greg Jones.
Here is that conversation, with Richard Hays, Ellen Davis, Stanley Hauerwas, moderated by Greg Jones.
Posted by Jonathan at 4:13 PM
Monday, May 6, 2013
The end is upon us. I know, it’s a touch melodramatic, and, more than that, it feels irresponsible to say with a full week of class and exams still to go - let’s not get ahead of ourselves, right? But think with me here: there’s this Sunday, next Sunday, which is our last before exams - Becca, our lone graduate will preach - then the exams themselves. And exams can be a lot like death - not in that sense but in the sense that it can be hard to coordinate the exit. You finish. Some folks are still here. Some aren’t. Some are still studying. Others have “passed on.” There’s no going out together. Some of you will be here to celebrate Pentecost on the Sunday after exams, graduation weekend; others of you will have gone home already, to begin summer jobs and other adventures. So this weekend and next, really, is what’s left. Saying goodbye to one another, and to a year that I pray has been good for you. A year in which I pray you have grown, been challenged and blessed.
With closure and the getting ready of goodbyes in mind, it would seem natural to gravitate toward John’s gospel tonight, where Jesus is saying goodbye to his friends. But I’m not Jesus, and you aren’t, either. And besides, there’s another image in our scriptures that - all week long - has been compelling me to follow it. It’s the image of the river, bright as crystal in the book of Revelation:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
How can a river be bright, I’ve wondered. And this river runs through the middle of the road, we’re told. There’s this camp in the Texas hill country that requires of those who would access the camp that they drive up a shallow creek. The road literally is the river, or the river is the road. And I’ve thought this week about that road. Only brighter. And this river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, sustaining fruit-bearing trees, planted along its banks, and the leaves of these trees are healing.
These trees are the Tree of Life, but it’s hard not to think, also, of the first psalm:
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of
the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
Tonight, at the end, I want us to plant ourselves beside this water for a moment, remembering as early church father Apringius of Beja once said, “The living water [of this stream] is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“For we have been buried with him by baptism into death.” Therefore, the living water which is like crystal and is perfectly clear is the washing of the holy font and the resulting brightness of most blessed faith. It is said to flow from the throne of God and the Lamb because the cleansing is from him, life is from him, and all righteousness and holiness of baptism flows from and proceeds from him.
We gather at the river, and Christ is the river. All year long, we have gathered at this river, where we have found food and drink, new and unending life. We have gathered at this river where we break bread, share the cup, remember our baptism. Gathered at this river as Jimmy was baptized. Gathered at this river singing hymns, asking prayers: let all who are thirsty, come, we sang. And I wonder if you remember the year’s very early beginning, the first Sunday after Labor Day, when we gathered around the waters of baptism and you traced a cross on your sister’s forehead and said to your brother, “My life and death is with my neighbor.”
The Christian life is learning to put down roots at this river. Christ is the river. Because, says Apringius, “the cleansing is from him, life is from him, and all righteousness and holiness of baptism flows from and proceeds from him.”
In our collect tonight, we asked God to pour love into us, so that we might love. Here again, the recognition that Christ is the source, even of our ability to love God. So also, Christ is the source of our love for one another.
When we love one another, we share the love of Christ the river. We find all that we need to love one another in him.
As we begin to end this good year at St. Francis House, I want to invite you to join me and wash one another’s feet with the waters of baptism. As we do so, we remember that our love has its source in the river whose waters are bright and come from the throne of God and the Lamb, sustaining fruit-bearing trees, planted along its banks, and that the leaves of these trees are healing.
Posted by Jonathan at 3:24 PM