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anatomy of a sermon – simon mcleay

Opening comments about the sermon

I read Tony Scanerlli’s book on emotional health earlier this year and I wanted to do a short series on Emotional Maturity, I started with this sermon which was intended to do two things; to encourage our people to think about their own emotional growth and also to marvel at Jesus’s ability to pass on peace at a time of high stress.  This is naturally something I would like to do better as well.

Note: I present the text largely unedited as it was for preaching – If I tidied up the grammar too much it would stop being an oral presentation.

Title: “Learning to feel in the 2nd person.”

Text Verses John 14, esp 25-27.

 

Sermon

Have you ever felt up to here! (Gesture). Like you are drowning in work or worry?  Maybe you are being overwhelmed by good opportunities or maybe by disasters.  I saw in the paper this week that Dave Cull the mayor of Dunedin “lost it” with someone at a council meeting!  He apologised shortly afterwards but I wonder do you ever feel like that?  Over whelmed and then you lose it a bit?  You yell at the wrong person, or you cry when you weren’t planning to.  Your emotions just well over.  I want to talk about emotions this week, but not negatively, incredibly positively!  Because our emotions and imagination are incredibly powerful to bring change for good, as well as fill our lives.

I have a very strong memory of being on Vanuatu just a few days ago, on an off-shore island, and I woke up about 11pm at night, having not slept long.  I wanted to go to the loo, but there were enormous spiders there, I had a mossie net over me so I was feeling crowded, the house was all quiet so I couldn’t get up read a book and have a cup of tea.  I could start to feel myself just slightly freaking out!  So I took a deep breath, went to the loo and read a chapter of my book with my torch – and I prayed.  God helped me moderate my feelings when I asked him.  He gives us Joy and fear, anger and compassion for a reason, and part of emotional maturity is to learn to read ourselves and ask for God’s help.  Thank God I feel back to sleep.

Have you felt strong emotions recently?  Have you experienced Fear or Joy.

Cate (Cate Williams, our Associate Pastor) was speaking last week about loving God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength.  I want to pick up her theme and talk about loving God with all our Emotions, all our Intellect and all our Will.  I was talking with a counsellor about the way that our mind works.  In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy we find that if we change the way that we think about a situation, sometimes that will change the way that we feel, and therefore may change the way that we behave.  These three parts of us work in sync, our feelings affect our thoughts, and our thoughts affect our feelings and our behaviours also affect our thoughts and feelings.

Over the next 3 weeks I want to talk about our emotions, about accepting ourselves and our emotions, about embracing our emotions but also learning to moderate our emotions. I want to encourage us to realise that we must take responsibility for managing our own emotions.  This is part of Christian Maturity.   Too often in the past Evangelical Christians have been wary of our emotions, distrusting them, instead of seeing them as a gift from God, which can tell us a lot about what is going on inside.

Ok it’s a simple message this week.  Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people.  The goal of Christian discipleship, is to get people into a relationship with Jesus, ‘to get people saved’ and then to grow into Christian maturity.  And that means emotional maturity as well as physical and intellectual maturity.  I read a wonderful book early this year called emotionally healthy spirituality by Peter Scazzero, and one of the key points for me is that God wants us to grow up emotionally.  Here is my reading of what emotional maturity looks like.  1. An emotionally mature person is aware of their emotional state – whether they are happy or sad, feeling strong or anxious. Maturity is not being happy all the time, it is self-knowledge.  2 It is cultivating the ability to manage our own emotional state, to withdraw if that is what we need.  To go and watch a movie, to go for a run, to eat something that comforts without eating too much, to find friends that support.  My mother used to send us to the wood pile to cut wood if we were angry.  3.  To be able to read the emotions of other people around us – despite our own emotional state.  To recognise that when I come home from a week in Vanuatu my family will also be tired because I haven’t been there. 4 (Here’s the big one) to provide love for others as they need it, not just as I want it.  It’s like the love languages – to love another as they need to be loved, not just how I like to love.  And that fourth stage is really where we want that channel to God to be open, because we need his love to flow through us.  Here’s a final challenge, not to need those around us to be happy for us to be content and at peace.  We don’t want to be obnoxious, but we cannot leverage our emotional health on how others around us feel.  To love is to allow our neighbour to feel what they feel without pressure from us to feel happy, that then allows us to give and receive love.

Let me give you an example, and it’s an example I spoke about at a wedding recently. In the week that he was going to die, Jesus experienced a range of emotions.  He must have been anxious, we know he was afraid, I wonder whether he also felt angry?  Now Jesus managed his emotions, he went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, he took friends along, he made some space even in the middle of the night.  So, we know how he was feeling that week.  Let’s see him at his best, John 14 just a little before he could see that his friends were anxious and he gives them his peace.  I would have been emitting anxiety all over the place, I would have been yelling at my nearest and dearest, ‘don’t you know what I’ve got to face!’, ‘stop your worrying you’ve got nothing to worry about, you’re not about to die’.  Quite the contrary, Jesus is concerned about them and gives them a supernatural peace from God.  Ok back at the garden he gets a little sharper, couldn’t you stay awake for just one hour?  Being annoyed at your mates for letting you down is not sin.  He’s particularly annoyed at Peter, because I believe that he’s trying to tell Peter, be ready for the test.  The test Peter will fail.  Stage 4 the love that Peter needed that night was actually a bit of sharpness.  Jn 14.27 my peace I give to you.

Let’s go through those 4 stages in some more detail.

To know yourself and to be able to read your emotions.  What better example is there in the scripture than Jeremiah the Prophet?  Jeremiah 4.19, my bowels, my bowels I am pained at my very heart, my heart maketh a noise in me, I cannot hold my peace, because thou has heard O my soul, the sound of the trumpet the alarm of war.  Jeremiah had learned to read his emotion, he had seen the sights of trouble coming for God’s people, and he was reading his bodily reaction.  I’m in great distress, I can feel trouble coming.  I think God gives us emotions to tell us about what is going on under the surface and it’s important to learn to read ourselves.  If I’m feeling really sad there may be a good reason.  If I’m feeling joy, what a blessing.  If I’m feeling this is right, then that’s an indicator.  If I’m feeling uneasy.  I remember in supervision training John McAlpine talking about naming what you feel sometimes.  I’m feeling that we’re a bit stuck here.  I’m feeling that there’s something that you’re not telling me.  Learning to read our feelings is part of emotional Christian maturity.  I’m feeling unhappy in my job.  I’m feeling overwhelmed.  That occasional outburst means something.

Then secondly to learn how to manage our own emotional health, I don’t mean suppress feelings, but to learn how to care for ourselves.  To love ourselves as we love our neighbour.  That might be as simple as going for a walk and having an ice cream.  It might be finding a friend to have a good talk to.  It might finding a spot to read a book, or taking a day to go skiing.  I did that once years ago, I just took a day and went skiing and I felt so much better for about 6 weeks after that.  Esther was a queen with a huge challenge ahead of her.  She decided to risk going before the king without being summoned, to plead for the lives of her people, even though the risk was that she would be executed for impertinence.   She could read her emotions, she was afraid, nervous and unsure of herself.  And she gets full points for part 2. Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”  Esther 4.16.  She decides to fast and pray, she enlists the help of others, and she sets herself a dead line (no more worrying about when), then she accepts the worst – If I die, I die.  Great bravery for a young woman.  Esther is an example of managing her anxiety in a very positive way.  If you have a great challenge facing you – will you follow Esther’s model?

The third skill to learn is to read the emotion of those around you, detached from your own need.  It’s very easy to go looking for what you want, love and support.  But to read another’s emotion – or at least to explore for it.  In the little book of Ruth Naomi is a woman of grace who does this.  She followed her husband off on a mad business plan, they took their children and settled in a far land where the boys married and then the males started to die.  First her husband Elimelek, then her sons Mahlon and Kilion, died and Naomi is in bitter distress, she is lost and she starts to head home.  Her daughters in law are loyal to her, but here’s the act of grace.  Naomi lifts herself out of her bitter grief to read or consider the feelings and life of her daughters in law.  Naomi send the girls back to Moab and at least in Orpah’s place she reads it right after many tears Orpah heads home, but Ruth clings to her – and again her Naomi reads her right.  Maybe she doesn’t even want to the girl with her? But she can tell that Ruth feels this fierce loyalty to her and so she allows Ruth to stay.  Naomi is an example to all of us, that even when we can be overwhelmed with our own emotions it is possible to read the emotion of others.  And it can be the other way around, I might be incredibly full of joy, but be sensitive to know that what is bringing me joy might bring some other emotion to others around me.  Emotional maturity doesn’t mean suppressing our own joy or grief, just moderating how we express it in certain contexts.

The final skill that goes with emotional maturity is to be able to know ourselves, manage ourselves, be able to read others and respond as the other person needs.  Naomi actually managed skill 4 as well as 3.  The premier example I can think of was Jesus on the cross, dying for the sin of the world yet still managing to look out for his mother.  He knows that she is distressed, and he speaks to her not just in a practical sense but in an emotional sense also.  He doesn’t say to John, hey mate can you look out for my mother.  No, he addresses a deeper need, woman here is your son.  He is giving Mary someone else to care for and to be cared for by. He know that his other brothers and sisters are conflicted and that John is a son of thunder, but also a sensitive soul.  John will care for mum.

My friends God wants to give us life in all its fullness, that will mean the full range of emotions over time.  Let us learn how to read these emotions God has placed within us, fear can be a very healthy emotion.  But also to learn how to care for ourselves and manage our own emotions, and not expect someone else to manage our emotions for us, yes a child has his or her mother and father to help manage their emotions – but as adults we need to take responsibility for managing our own emotions.  Then as we mature learning how to read the emotions of others without being sucked into them and finally being able to respond to the emotions of others from God’s resources not our own.  How awesome and wonderfully we are made, and how much our heavenly father loves us.

(Final prayer)

the end of the world – simon mcleay

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We just did a series on the End of the World.  I was afraid to touch this topic and there are some interesting ideas out there.  I was also aware that I will never have read enough to feel ready to preach on this, but we decided to give it a go.  Our Youth pastor did the introduction a Theological survey and then my associate and I preached through 4 Biblical passages.  We started in Daniel and I discovered ‘the Bible Project’, they have got the best video graphic summary of Daniel.  So we played that then I made some observations.  I decided to take the approach of triple fulfilment, partly because I thought it would be inclusive of different people’s world views, but mainly because that’s what I believe.  I believe that the prophets almost always had a contemporaneous situation in mind, I believe that often the Prophesies have an ongoing application and I believe that Jesus will come again – and coded in these Prophesies are some allusions to that.  My associate (Cate Burton)  preached about Jesus’ words and did a great job of challenging us about how our retirement funds are invested and how do we care for the earth amongst other things.  I tackled 1 Thessalonians and talked about the Metaphors of “Rising from the dead” and “the Messiah returning” as up and down meeting in the middle.  I talked about Jesus’ ascension as an enacted metaphor; God allowed Jesus to levitate to illustrate his going into heaven, although none of us think that Jesus is in low earth orbit.  I found an article Mark Keown wrote on “Left Behind” very helpful. I have been using the phrase “I take the bible seriously but I don’t believe we need to adopt a first century world view to do so.”  Last week I did a survey of John’s Revelation with all that is fraught about that. I feel that there was value in tackling a difficult topic, I hope that I gave people some biblical insights that might help them to reflect on this.  I’m interested in my own hesitancy to provide a critique to some of the wild claims that are out there in Christian media.  I’m also aware that I probably lost a number of people, we’re back to an ordinary series next!

time for feedback – simon mcleay

feedback

Well I’ve just read another article reflecting on how strange it is in our culture that we preach and there is no feedback or interaction, so today I have decided to plot a change. I wonder whether I will still be so keen this time next week. Perhaps I could give up a little control for Lent!

I’m a believer in a well structured and carefully composed sermon, I like alliteration and I love building dramatic tension. I also live in an internet age where I know I’ve got to take my conclusion and pop it out the front of my sermon – Above the fold!

So I’m thinking of three ways to have some interactive dynamic in “our preaching”.

Firstly we have already been talking about hosting an open small group after the service for those who would like to toss around the message a bit more.

Secondly, I’m now thinking perhaps I’ll invite a series of people to make a response to the sermon each week – just to get the interaction flowing. They might just point out the thing that touched them, or they might talk about how they want to put some aspect of the sermon into practice, or scariest of all they might ask some questions. That would be cool; we could have some rules about not being mean to the preacher, about maintaining a sense of worship, but also really being able to ask a good question.

Thirdly I’m thinking about texting in comments – perhaps putting those up on the screen or even using a live blog format. I wonder whether that would be possible. We’re a mid-sized church so most people wouldn’t want to ‘shout out’. Hmm.

Why would I wonder about doing this at all? Because this is the way that Jesus often spoke. His disciples asked him questions. The best learning happens in an interactive forum. Hmm is that true? Not necessarily some great learning comes from listening to an excellent presentation – but I believe even that excellent learning can get better if you can ask questions.

Q? Won’t this put the speaker off? I think after 20 years of preaching I’ll generally know my passage and I’ll try not to be too threatened by interesting questions. I won’t need to answer every question.

Q? Won’t this destroy the sense of worship? I think there is a danger that we start to debate to make a good point. But we can aim to speak about God, in God’s presence and with God as a participant in the conversation.

Q? Won’t this take up a lot of time? Yes, it will take some time, but it will be worth it.

Last week I was preaching about Acts 17, Paul in Athens and the way that he preached to a Pagan culture with sympathy and challenge. I talked about looking for footholds in our culture – I wonder what other people might have been able to contribute? I wish you all a rich journey through Lent.

a diet of preaching – simon mcleay

bible on plate

I’ve just finished preaching through Ezekiel, what a fascinating book to take a journey through. We did it in six weeks, so honestly it was a once over lightly. However, how many preachers would tackle this book today? I suspect that many of us avoid these great tomes because they just seem too difficult to get into; but what a shame. I like the idea of choosing an Old Testament book to take a journey through each year. I know it’s the teacher in me, I know that I have to reckon with the eternal question, “So what?” But let’s not impoverish our people by neglecting a teaching series from time to time. Am I preaching to the choir? My friends I think that we as preachers have a duty to provide a healthy diet across the year – whether we are lectionary based or whether we choose our own themes. I think there are four essential aspects to a year’s preaching. What do you think are the essentials?

A. We’ve got to give some gospel basics over the year – whether it’s a “Why do I believe series?”, or a romp through Galatians. You might decide to punctuate your preaching by having a basic gospel Sunday once a month, or six weeks around Easter.

B. Then I think we need to address the issues of our time. I’m looking at doing a series based on Andy Stanley series called “Take it to the Limit”, a series about building margin into our lives. It’s really interesting to watch and read Andy’s sermons and think how I will represent them. And Yes I’ll say right up front it’s based on Andy’s work.

C. Thirdly some discipleship deepening. I did a one-off on sex and faith, and now some of the blokes and I are doing Valiant Man as a course.

D. But finally I want to argue for some preaching that increases the general biblical literacy of our congregations. If we hadn’t done Ezekiel we wouldn’t have looked at the Exile, we wouldn’t have explored the power of visions, we wouldn’t have talked about “A new heart”, nor the river flowing from the temple, and we wouldn’t have seen the foundation that so much in the New Testament is based on.

Go on friends take a risk and tell yourself today – what unusual Old Testament book will you preach on next year.

vision – simon mcleay

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It’s the start of the year!  I’ve come back from holiday, I’ve looked at my schedule, and I’ve got down “Vision Sunday”.  Oh what have I done to myself!  Why couldn’t I have just started with 6 weeks on the Sermon on the Mount, or that series on Ezekiel I’ve got planned for later in the year.  No, I wisely decided last year that I should start the year with a sermon about what we as leaders think God is calling our church to be about this year.  A Vision Sermon.  A great idea until you have to write it!  A great idea until you have to approach the text with some pre-determined discernments.    At worst this will be a bit of an anaemic sermon trying to set out a strategic direction that would have been better left in the elders retreat minutes.  Or worse it will be some old heresy dressed up in PR spin.    I feel tired just thinking about the idea.

But when Jesus stood up at Nazareth, he knew what he was about and he preached his “Stump Speech”.  Naturally he was more immersed in the Scriptures than I am,  cleverly he appears to have said very little, but evoked a huge response.  But any way you looked at it he preached a vision sermon, and it was all about what he had come to do.  So I’m hopeful that this particular risky start to the year might be okay.  After all those of us who have supped on Bill Hybel’s soup over the years can’t really begin a year without thinking about vision.  (I notice if I’d pinned myself to the lectionary I would be looking at Matt 5.)

So what am I preaching in the New Year?  Well we sense a particular call to serving our city this year so my text will be from Jeremiah 29.  I’ll do a little exegesis of the particular situation of the exiles, and how this was a shocking suggestion to pray for such a pagan place; but I actually want to pick up the word shalom and use it to summarise the gospel.  I’ll be talking about the vision of Shalom in Deuteronomy, and the way that Micah so nicely summarises this idea of everyone under their own vine.  And then I’ll be talking about the King and his Kingdom, about the Kingdom of Shalom and about being salt and light in our city.

The question I want to pose is what ensures that I am being biblical, for me this is a Mission Sermon coming out of the “The text” rather than “A text”.  But what controls will I place on myself?  I’ve already found myself trawling through the gospels looking for a connection between Jesus, Shalom and Serving.  So I face the dilemma, what am I adding to the gospel, or what am I subtracting?  I’ve think the honest way when dealing with these sort of questions is to acknowledge what I am doing, I’m interrogating the text with my vision to ask, ”Is this biblical?”  To say I’m searching the text to see whether this adds up.  Of course I want to deliver a passionate, emotionally charged plea to my congregation to love the people of our city as Jesus does.  But I think there’s always room to ask a question, if we believe Jesus loves our city, what do we base that belief on?  I hope as I impassion my listeners I am also inviting them to be co-explorers of the scriptures with me.  God bless for 2014. Simon

preach from the heart – simon mcleay

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“Preach from the heart”, these are the words that keep coming back to me as I think about preaching today.  I could talk about technique, I also go back and forward between preaching from a script to preaching form just a series of topics.  I sometimes spend hours over the PowerPoint and sometimes just pop up a simple slide behind me.  But I’ve been interrupted in my journey recently by a figure from a different culture.  Through some connections in our congregation we hosted a seminar with Jackie Pullinger (from Hong Kong) last month.  She’s a surprising woman, strong, direct and a little intimidating, but she also has a passion for the ministry of every Christian and a passion for the lost and poor of our world.

She told us a story about a pastor who had gone to the North of England for 5 years some time ago, because he had heard there was going to be a revival there.  The revival didn’t come and he left.  Jackie was horrified that he had been chasing the revival and that he wasn’t there ‘for the sheep’. Jackie spoke for 10 hours over 2 or 3 days, and there were only 2 or 3 times I remember such raw emotion in her voice.  It had two effects on me, firstly it made me really think about my motives, “Do I want to be a great preacher, or do I want to love the sheep.”  Of course I want to do both, but I find it so easy to get caught up in what I am saying.  Preach from the heart of Jesus to his people.  Secondly it reminded me of the impact when I reveal just how much I feel about some subjects.

Later I was reading Jackie’s book ‘Chasing the Dragon’, about the early years of her ministry in Hong Kong.  She quotes something that was said to her by a gang leader four years into her time in Hong Kong, I think it speaks of integrity of heart that shouts the loudest prayer.  “We couldn’t care less if you have big buildings or small ones.  You can be offering free rice, free schools, judo classes or needlework to us.  It doesn’t matter if you have a daily program or hymn singing once a week.  These things don’t touch us because the people who run them have nothing to do with us.  What we want to know is if you are concerned with us.”  Wow! What a statement from the community; what a question from our listeners.  When we stand up to preach, do our sermons reflect our love for the sheep, and does our love for the sheep reflect His love for the sheep?

leviticus for lent – simon mcleay

I’m about to start the year as a preacher.  I’ve been thinking and praying and I’ve chosen a challenge.  I’m planning to preach “An idiot’s guide to Leviticus”.  I’ve never really studied Leviticus, but I feel drawn to the third book of the Torah this year.  I have been intrigued to discover that in earlier times it was the first book of the Torah that Jewish children were introduced to.  I’ve been trying to read about the book over summer, to try and discover the book as a whole before I focus on the messages.  I thought in this article I’d sketch out my plan perhaps to inspire or encourage you.

Easter is really early this year, so Lent is Leviticus!  I think Leviticus is going to open up the cross in a fresh way to us, an ancient and fresh way.  I was quite struck by William Willimon last year, when he talked about letting the scripture be a little more strange and foreign.  It seems to me he was warning me against domesticating the scriptures to my worldview.  I like to preach application, but I am approaching Leviticus wanting it to speak its story first.  The book seems to be concerned about things such as ritual purity and a type of Holiness that is very ‘other’.  I haven’t planned the whole year yet, but I think Hebrews is beckoning as a follow up.

My plan is to take 6 weeks in Leviticus, not to do the first 6 chapters, but to overview the book over six weeks, taking a different pericope each week.  I’m planning a message on sacrifice first, we will look at priesthood (with the coming of Jesus in mind), at purity and of course the Day of Atonement.  I’m still trying to get a feel for the whole book before I decide the exact chapters and verses to preach.  I’ve been preaching for 20 years but I’ve never approached a book in quite this way before.  I guess I want to achieve 3 things.  I want to honour the ‘otherness’ of this book and see for myself how this third book of the torah informs our Christian faith.  I want to give my people an introduction to Leviticus that encourages them to read it for themselves (over lent) with some insights that might allow them to feel more familiar with the content of the book.  After all Leviticus is usually the book that new Christians get stuck at.  And I trust that the Holy Spirit is going to say something to my people about their lives today from this book.  I suspect that’s something about holiness and meeting God in worship, but I’m waiting to see.

Practically I’m going to preach the six messages myself to make sure it holds together.  I’m also thinking about the visual aspects.  Will we set up an altar in the church somewhere to help people visualise the sacrifices?  Maybe we (Low church folk) will delineate the platform in such a way as to draw some real distinctions between outside, inside, sanctuary and altar.  Then we can collapse these divisions on Good Friday.

I’m motivated by metaphor and so I’m also keen to explore the idea of ‘bio-hazard’ alongside purity.  I’m aware that ancient Israel did not have a modern medical outlook, but I suspect that the films about outbreaks and contagions could give us an emotive response to the cost of contagion and the raw danger of sin and impurity.  Again I can imagine a black death excursus.   I’m excited about visiting Leviticus this lent.

If you want to follow the series it should appear on www.stpeters.org.nz in lent.