Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sermon Writing and P.E. with the Kids

The false labor left me with a ragged recovery on Wed. Today I had a planned to write, because, well, a Pastor's main duty for his congregations is the worship service. I have 5 to prepare for. Actually, only two sermons this week: one for regular weekend worship, the other for the Knute and Angie's wedding on Saturday.

Mavis had a treatment yesterday for her back. She'll have another in two weeks. I think it was a steroid shot. Keep her in your prayers. Her back is causing her a great deal of pain.

So today I worked on the second sermon. I was able to write the other one last night. But the time limitation for this second sermon is more severe. Ironically, to those who don't write sermons, shorter sermons seem to take much more time. I'm reminded of a quotation attributed to Mark Twain, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time."

I had spent the night in the fort with Elsie and Clara. We woke up pretty early. It was light at 4:30am and 49 degrees Farenheit. We all hid our heads in our sleeping blankets until Matthew called out "Breakfast" at 7am.

After breakfast and morning devotion I went to the office to work on the sermon. Until this sermon is done I only take emergency calls.

In the afternoon I spent an hour with the kids playing. Today I chose to get the kung-fu/karate weapons out for our play. Ever since I saw "Shanghai Noon" I've been fascinated with the Chinese weapon called the Meteor Hammer or the Iron Dart/Rope Dart. Look it up on YouTube and you can find some beautiful examples. There's a nice National Geographic video of this there. I started trying to learn this weapon last week. But I encountered a rather serious set-back. Jackie Chan had used a rope with a horse shoe as his weapon. I put a nice heavy half-pound nut and bolt combination at the end of my string of clothes line. Jackie's character in this movie was named "Chon Wang" a sound alike for "John Wayne." The joke in the movie is that "Chon Wang" could never be a good cowboy name, just as Owen Wilson's character name "Wyatt Erp" could never be a good cowboy name. Well, it was the Meteor Hammer that stuck with me.

Back to my own Meteor Hammer:

Spinning was fine. Quick horizontal shots went fine. Using the feet to redirect the trajectory of the chunk of iron went fine--two times. The third time, WHACK--right on the bottom of the inside of my right ankle. Oh, the pain, the stupidity. I felt it in my groin and kidneys. I gimped up to the house and showed Mary my new purple swelling with a brilliant red mark. "Stupid is as stupid does," was her sentiment. I've been putting camphorated ointment on the ankle since.

That was a week ago. Today I replaced the nut-bolt combination with a tennis ball. Duh! I should have (In the words of Emperor Palpatine) "foreseen this." My ankle still hurts (and I still limp), but the tennis ball is very forgiving, where iron is not. So I got my trusty ViviCam 5386 out and made some video of my experiments with this new weapon today. The kids all got into the act as well. I brought out my sticks, single ended staff, nunchaku, three-sectional staff; and my Chinese TaiChi sword. We stuck with the sticks and string. We didn't get to the three-sectional staff or the sword today.

So, I recorded this all with my camera set to video. I cut out a great deal and put together a display of my mediocrity with the meteor hammer; along with the kids working on staff, meteor hammer, and nunchaku. The video is inspirational to me.

On the one hand, it shows me how slow and sloppy I have become with staff and 'chucks: showing me also how lame I am at the meteor hammer. I keep thinking, "Joe, you're fat, you're slow, you used to be a chiseled muscular piece of work. Now you're an overweight middle-aged pretender. It's hard to believe you actually trophied in national competition. All you've really done is atrophied."--That would be the negative reenforcement. On the other hand, it shows me how much fun the kids have with these martial arts. Even Stella wanted to get in on the action with the staff. This is the positive reenforcement.

For those who may not have acquired the cultural literacy (i.e., wasted their youth listening to VanHalen) the song in the video is "House of Pain" from VanHalen's 1984. I thought it was appropriate given the topic of the video and my stupid ankle bruise.

After our P.E. class I worked more on the sermon until supper. After supper we had family time, devotion, and watched another episode of Dr. Who (The Long Game). It is somehow gratifying to find my children enjoying the same kind of fiction I enjoy.

There was an article in, I think, "The Motley Magpie" which pointed out some differences between Conservative Lutheran Pastors, on the one hand, and Confessional Lutheran Pastors, on the other. One of the differences (and the article was sarcastic) was that a Conservative Lutheran Pastor listens to conservative radio talk shows. While a Confessional Lutheran Pastor listens to classic rock. I listen to both, and I listen to public radio. I like science fiction: esp. Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Who, Star Trek and Analog magazine. I'm not sure where this puts me in the mapping that the Motley Magpie proposed. I suspect that I'm outside their own wildly sarcastic measurements.

But I can tell you this about myself. There are four books that I read through every year. I read through them because they keep me centered on my duties in my call as a pastor as well as my higher duties as a husband and father. They are: the Bible, the Lutheran Confessions, the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, and Walther's The Proper Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel.

The first should be obvious to any Christian. The second should be obvious to any Confessional Lutheran. The third should be obvious to any Confessional Lutheran Pastor. The fourth is, unfortunately, not obvious to those who claim to be Confessional Lutheran Pastors. In stead of Law/Gospel preaching many Pastors within the name of Confessional Lutheranism preach anecdotal sermons. While an anecdote or illustration can be useful--if and only if it helps to reinforce the Biblical text--many have turned to story telling as the main body of their sermons. The problem is that anecdotes or illustrations by their nature can only point to human experience. Human experience, by its very nature, knows nothing of the Gospel. Why not spend those few minutes each week using illustrations from Scripture. God knows that our members spend little enough time in the Word already. Most do not know Ahaz from Ahab. Why not use the time to teach them the Bible rather than telling them what you watched on TV or what the members of your last parish used to do. Walther's "Law and Gospel" is a great book that will help you break the cycle of anecdotes and present a Biblical centered sermon of God's Law and Gospel, highlighting sin and grace from which your hearers to benefit.

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