like trying to drain the ocean with a spoon

"We should not try to master the text. The Bible will become more and more mysterious to real exegetes. They will see all the depths and distances. They will constantly run up against the mystery before which theology is like trying to drain the ocean with a spoon. The true exegete will face the text like an astonished child in a wonderful garden, not like an advocate of God who has seen all his files" (Karl Barth, Homiletics, p. 128).

not to talk about scripture but from it

"Preaching must be exposition of holy scripture. I have not to talk about scripture but from it. I have not to say something, but merely repeat something .... Our task is simply to follow the distinctive movement of thought in the text, to stay with this, and not with a plan that arises out of it." (Karl Barth, Homiletics, p. 49.)

Not long ago a friend made the comment that my last sermon at University Hill Congregation revealed just how much Karl Barth influences my preaching. It surprised me when he said it because I simply thought of that sermon as how the text (Mark 4:35-41) speaks now, how it demands to be proclaimed. I didn't realize how obvious Barth's influence might be.

Reading some of Barth's thoughts on preaching today I was reminded of that sermon - "To the Other Side". Yes, it is fair to say that while my journey as a preacher began with a desire to make the text as relevant as possible it inevitably shifted to listening for the odd Word of God revealed through scripture. I found my way to this mode of preaching through teachers like Walter Brueggemann and Will Willimon who trace their roots directly to Karl Barth. For that I am grateful.


salt of the earth - a christian seasons calendar 2017/2018

It is wonderful to see that the new "Salt of the Earth - A Christian Seasons Calendar 2017/2018" is now available online.

This unique calendar tells the story of the Christian year through scripture, liturgical colour, and artwork. The Christian year has its origins in the festivals held in the early centuries of the church’s life. These gradually grew into the annual marking of time that Protestant and Roman Catholic churches share today. By focusing on the seasons of the Christian year, this calendar offers an alternate way of remembering, and living in, the story of Jesus Christ. The annual re-telling and re-living of the narrative of the gospel is a powerful training resource for churches and disciples who live in cultures that have forgotten, or have never heard, the Christian story.


god's own gift: glimpsing tomorrow's church today

"But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you" (Isa. 43:1-2).

“Do not fear.” “You are mine.” “I will be with you.” This is the surprising news that God—through the prophet Isaiah—speaks into the despairing souls of congregations that find energies dwindling, numbers depleting and doors closing. Exiled far from their familiar home, they no longer know how to navigate the cultural map of a strange new twenty-first century world. The evidence suggests that it is only a matter of time before this people is no more, subsumed into the culture of consumption in which it now swims. But the prophet sees otherwise. There is a future for the people God has brought into being.


a prayer of approach & confession, a declaration of grace

A Prayer of Approach & Confession

You speaking your goodness into creation.
You birthing your Word in human flesh.
You enflaming your church with speech.
Great Three in One.
We worship You.
We praise You.
We adore You.
You, our hope.
You, in glory.
You, with power.
And then us.
Us in praise.
Us in gratitude.
Us in love.
With you.


baptismal preaching

It was Will Willimon who taught me that all preaching is baptismal preaching. Either the preacher is talking about what life is like because you are among the baptized or the sermon is a description of what it would mean to decide to be baptized. Suddenly every sermon is about baptism. What, then, of the Sundays when the service includes baptism? On those occasions I decided to address the sermon directly to those who were baptized on that day. I would invite the congregation to overhear the sermon. In the cases where the baptized were young children I gave a copy of the manuscript to the parents and asked them to include it with the baptism certificate and photos of the day so that their child might read it in the years to come. I imagined the scripture readings of the day as a gift to them. In this way the congregation was encouraged to see the baptism as the most important event in its life on this day. Some examples of sermons preached on a baptismal Sunday are posted here at "Benedictus"We went through fire and water, yet ...""Lamb and Shepherd" and "Tested". Here is another, titled "When You Pass Through the Waters" (from 2007), that hosts Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-22 ...

Today we are witnesses to the baptism of Jakob. It is particularly appropriate that Jakob is baptized on the Sunday when we mark the baptism of Jesus, since it was young Jakob who took the part of the newborn Jesus here on Christmas Eve. With all the festivity of Christmas it is easy to forget that in the early church the baptism of Jesus was more celebrated than his birth. In the third century there were three major Christian festivals - Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany. Then Epiphany was not a celebration of the arrival of the magi but of the baptism of Jesus. Imagine our life built on a threefold rhythm that marked Jesus’ Baptism, the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. That is how it was in the church in the second, third and fourth centuries. Today we are back at the beginning. Back at the river. And we are here as witnesses of young Jakob’s immersion in the water.


easter preaching

Easter preaching begins on Easter Sunday and then continues through the celebratory fifty days of the Season of Easter ("Easter Times Fifty"). Some samples of my attempts to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection can be found posted here - "Not Enough Security""An Idle Tale" and "A New Beatitude". And here is an Easter Sunday sermon titled "Preaching to Cornelius" that hosts Acts 10:34-43 ...

Cornelius. Have you heard of Cornelius? All Easter preaching is finally preaching to Cornelius. We have become accustomed to Easter preaching that takes us to the tomb and to the women and to the first dawning recognition that something unbelievable is now the believable truth. It is no surprise that the narratives of Easter morning are the compelling location for our singing and dancing for joy today. But we are not at the tomb or back in Galilee. We are far removed from that point of origin. That is where Cornelius comes into the picture. He doesn’t appear in any of our Easter morning texts. But he is always here. Over the years the church has, wisely decided that there is one text that is always to be read on Easter Sunday morning. It is the nine verse sermon that Peter delivers in the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It isn’t an Easter Sunday when he preaches. But the occasion of his sermon is critically important, nonetheless. You see, he preaches to Cornelius.


easter vigil preaching

I was introduced to the ancient tradition of the Easter Vigil by University Hill Congregation. For twenty years I was privileged to lead the congregation in its first celebration of the Resurrection each year. It meant preaching an Easter sermon in the darkness, waiting for the sun to rise. One sample of those sermons is posted at While it Was Still Dark. Another, titled "Fear and Great Joy" (from 2002 on Matthew 28:1-10), follows here ...

It all happens so fast. That is the first thing you notice when you pay attention to the text: “Suddenly there was a great earthquake ... Go quickly ... they left the tomb quickly ... Suddenly Jesus met them”. It is fashionable to imagine that the resurrection takes shape slowly in the lives of the disciples as it begins to dawn on them that Jesus present once again. But the text makes no room for a slowly emerging truth. It insists that it happened all of a sudden. One minute the two Mary’s are mourning and the next they are overcome by events beyond their comprehension. Easter is a radical departure from the expected and explicable routines of our days. It is no simple equation, not simply a story of bulbs waking from winter sleep to bloom once again. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a sudden act of God that sets in motion a rush of activity. The women do not linger. They run!


good friday preaching

For twenty years at University Hill Congregation I was in the habit of preaching a Good Friday sermon every other year. We shared our Good Friday observance with St. Anselm's Anglican Church. On the years when we would visit our Anglican neighbours I would be privileged to preach. I consistently found this to be one of the most powerful and challenging preaching assignments of the year. Looking back, I recall three of those sermons in particular. Two have previously been posted on this blog: "Ecce Homo" and "The Seven Last Words". A third, titled "Despised" (from 2002), hosts the crucial passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and is posted here ...

We are not surprised that on this Good Friday we read the gospel narrative of that black day. This is at the heart of the matter for us. Yet from the earliest days the church has looked elsewhere to make sense of it all. Remember, what we call the Old Testament is the only Bible the first Christians know. It is their ‘Word of the Lord’. When they tell the story of the mob and the judgment and the cross, they turn to the peculiar passage that bridges the fifty-second and fifty-third chapters of Isaiah. Recall the story of Philip encountering an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:32-33). This seeker asks Philip to interpret a key text in his Bible. Remember? It is from the ancient poem by Isaiah: “Like a sheep was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.” Written in the humiliation of exile six centuries before Jesus’ final humiliation, Isaiah's prophesy becomes the interpretive lens for the church that gathers at the foot of the cross. It is no accident that four of the six texts used by George Frederick Handel to portray Good Friday in the oratorio “The Messiah” are taken from this very passage (Part 2 - Is 53:3-6; also in Part 3 - Is. 53:8). This is the church’s original interpretation of the events of Good Friday.


a palm / passion sunday prayer of intercession

I offered this Prayer of Intercession for Palm/Passion Sunday when I served as Worship Elder during Holy Week at University Congregation. It followed the singing of the hymn "Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!"

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
         You who shape the stars and sky.
         You who hold the sun and sea.
         You who shape today and tomorrow.
         You who hold neighbour and stranger.
                    Your steadfast love, your tender mercies, your startling grace
                             suffers all, bears all, hopes all
                                     and we are in awe, speechless in gratitude.


a palm / passion sunday prayer of approach & confession

I offered this Prayer of Approach and Confession for Palm/Passion Sunday when I served as Worship Elder during Holy Week at University Congregation.

You come to us in humility.
You enter the gates of the city on a donkey.
You pass through the doors of our hearts as long-awaited guest.
We cry: “Hosanna … Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed are You, for You know the truth about the trouble
          in our world,
          in our city,
          in our soul.


can these bones live

Here are some sermon notes for a sermon I am not preaching this Sunday ... if I was the sermon might go something like this. Ezekiel 37:1-14 is as fresh and new as ever ...

- Ezekiel is set down in a valley full of bones. It is a vision he recognizes. He and his contemporaries have been marched to Babylon and witnessed fields filled with the bones of dead soldiers. They are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. “There were very many … and they were very dry”. This is a scene of carnage, without hope. The smell of death is everywhere. The LORD asks Ezekiel “Can these bones live?” The obvious answer is ‘No way’. But Ezekiel knows he is dealing with the LORD who has liberated an enslaved people from super-power Egypt. He turns it back to his questioner: “O LORD God, you know.”


to be a priest is to be a bridge

Once again this year University Hill Congregation is hosting forty seven texts on its Lenten pilgrimage to Easter. You can find the daily reflections here. I was assigned Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9. Here is my witness:

To be a priest is to be a bridge. Remember the priests of Israel standing in the Jordan river, holding back the waters, so that all the people (elders and infants, abled and dis-abled) can safely make the crossing to the other side. Remember that the Pope is known as “pontiff” from the Latin “pont” or bridge.


a prayer at my mother's funeral

Yesterday we held a Memorial Service for my mother, Anne Searcy. Her obituary is here.  The text for the service was Matthew 5:1-16 (The Beatitudes). My role in the service was to lead the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Supplication. Here is that prayer ...


pomalidomide (year three)

It has been ten months since my last myeloma update. That, in itself, is good news. This January I began my third year on pomalidomide. I continue to take this pill in conjunction with dexamethsone and cyclophosphamide and the results continue to be excellent. My monthly blood tests reveal that my free light chains range between 35 and 50. It means they are very low - nearly normal. This is good news for both my myeloma and amyloidosis. I am so very fortunate to have been diagnosed at an early stage before suffering any symptoms from my diseases and to be receiving such effective treatments. I could almost forget that I am living with an (at this point) incurable blood cancer ...


little well of sermons

I just re-discovered an online collection of sermons from University Hill Congregation that includes many that I preached between 1995 and 2008. That was a period in which I was changing the way I approached preaching in response to the newly missional location of the church. Big thanks to Jason Carlson who created and maintains the searchable site at Littlewell