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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

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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

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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.