While the crushing defeat and destruction of Jerusalem makes our small, “first world problems” look meager, we do experience a similar collapse of the known world. Jerusalem was the holy city, the channel of blessing, the tangible presence of God, memory and hope on earth. Our people similarly experience something like this collapse – and can we as priests and preachers help them rediscover lament, not to explain things or fix things, but to give people the opportunity to pour out their hearts before God?
Here’s what conservative and progressives surprisingly share in common: the crumbling of their world; I heard Walter Brueggemann voice a similar thought on Krista Tippett's On Being a few weeks back. Conservatives fear when they see their familiar, tried and true world they’ve known and loved crumbling around them – and progressives fear that the world they dream of will never become reality. Conservatives fear the loss of the church they've treasured; progressives fear that the church they yearn for will never come to be. Can a sermon unite them in their shared loss? Is our fractured state the real locus of who we are on World Communion Sunday as we fracture the bread? Can the preacher, in this very simple way (by naming both losses and fears), build a bridge?
In such agonizing circumstances, relationships matter. Writing from prison, Paul expresses immense tenderness and an overflow of love for his colleague, his friend, closer than even a son, in 1 Timothy 1:1-14. In a situation every bit as forlorn as that of ours or the ancient Judaeans, Paul dwells on tears, his and Timothy’s. He is gravely concerned that what he and the early Christians are enduring will feel like shame – which is so often the case.
Paul offers a profound, shocking alternative to shame – inviting Timothy to be rekindling of the gift within you from the laying on of hands. The Greek (maybe better rendered “re-igniting”) is anazopureo, which echoes anamimnesko, to recall. Reigniting is rooted in recollection. Do clergy preach this? Or simply reignite their own hopefulness?
Recalling my calling, and all that ramped up to ordination is a healing salve for me. When we graduated seminary, I do not recall thinking I want to go to meetings, or I want to make budgets, or even I want to preach sermons. Way back then, I really just felt an intense love for Jesus, and wondered if he had any errands I might run for him. Period. Recalling that somehow re-energizes me, at least for a little while. I wonder if the world church... if we can envision such a real entity... might do well to do some recollecting and reigniting, not by digging in institutionally, but by getting younger, freer, nimbler?
A word of caution, if you preach on 2 Timothy: I’ve heard some sermons playing on Lois and Eunice – sort of Ahh, we received such great faith from our mothers and grandmothers. But some in the room most certainly did not. And some of the great faith of our forbears was deeply flawed – just as the faith we hope to pass on to our families, or to our church people, is similarly flawed.
You might appreciate my book on preaching, The Beauty of the Word: The Challenge and Wonder of Preaching. It's not an intro, here's how to preach book, but more on the preaching life, the ongoing task of keep the Word and yourself fresh and on point.