Ordered Confession (March 14)
Unlike the previous week, when by inattention I crashed the senior students’ practice preaching session, I attended the one I was supposed to be at on the 14th. The student did a very good job with her assigned text and demonstrated confidence in the pulpit rivalled by few of her classmates (and even by a some of the faculty). She had provided me advance copies her sermon and the order of service that she intends to use when her turn to lead worship comes up early in April.
Though I had nothing but praise for her presence and preaching, I took her to task for something in the service she had written. She had all the standard bits that we use at the theological college, including some that are rarely, if ever, used in local churches. The way she arranged the things done around confession of sin has been getting under my skin more and more lately.
In previous years I would naile students for leading us to confess our sin without telling us afterwards that we have been forgiven. I told them that after they made me think of the rot in me and bring it to the surface, they owed me the comfort of assuring me that God had taken care of it. Now I’m on to something else, something from John Calvin. It’s that AFTER we have been assured of being forgiven that some sort of instruction for how to live (otherwise known as “the Law of God”) is needed. If not, we’ll just go out and make the same dumb mistakes again.
What had been happening of late at the college was a reading of the law FIRST after which an invitation to confess sins was given. Then there would be time for silent reflection, OR a unison prayer of confession, OR a confession prayer spoken by the leader. Singing a short response asking for God’s mercy (the Kyrie) sometimes followed, then some words about being pardoned. That’s all well and good, but I like Calvin’s order, with the law coming last. It doesn’t have to be something as heavy as the 10 commandments. Something as light as “love your neighbor as yourself” or “Be kind to one another” suffices. I ask students to do it this way because I want the entire “confession of sin” thing to leave us not only cleaned up, but armored for the battles we fight daily with our own weaknesses.
Required to be Boring (March 15)
The pulpit skills class that I’ve been teaching this term gets ever more deeply into creative things a preacher can do to make the entire “sermon part of worship more” effectively communicative. Students are becoming restless and uncomfortable because these skills seem more and more like showmanship and television presence than what they think ought to happen in church. Last week one even suggested that the techniques we were learning from videos were not proper for church where we are supposed to be “… more dignified, serious and…” I stopped him there, and added “boring.” There was nervous laughter and nodding of heads around the room. I’m not finished with these people,yet.
Pricey Hardware (March 18)
One of the stalled projects that I set out for myself last semester came around last week and kicked me into gear, only to go right back into neutral a couple of days later. The chapel at Tainan Theological College is a basilica with large windows on each side and a clerestory with its own set of windows. The light is spectacular! Last fall I went out onto the roof of the side aisle, pried open some of those clerestory windows, and hung banners across the chapel ceiling. The guy in charge of buildings and grounds made me promise to take them down before Christmas because the chapel had been rented out to people who were going to use it for weddings late in December.
`A week ago a woman who will preach to the community on March 22 mentioned that she would like banners aloft as part of her decorating scheme. That got me moving again. I pulled out my plans and made a shopping list for the hardware needed to make the entire process easier to do. Then I went shopping and got sticker shock. All I need are several knobs, hinges sliding bolts and eyelet screws, but the monster self-service hardware store I went to had only first class cabinetry fittings. I’m neither needing things that good nor wanting to spend that much. I left the store without buying a thing.
Project back in neutral, I’m wondering if I’ll EVER get it done.
Lost (March 19)
Owing to a history as a martial law dictatorship (which ended, thankfully, between 25 and 30 years ago), cities in Taiwan tend to have a collection of streets with the same names. Among the most important roads in any town are those named for Dr. Sun Yat-sen (the founder of the Republic of China) and for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (the military dictator whose army took over Taiwan after the second world war). On March 19th I was assigned to preach at a church in the city of Feng Shan, located on Chung Cheng (Chiang’s “royal” name) road, but went looking for Chung Shan (Dr. Sun’s “royal” name) road instead. Had I driven to the church, or taken a bus, I could have found it with no trouble at all. I’ve been going there since the early 80s. But this year I took the train. After wandering for about 3000 steps, I finally consulted the address written on a piece of paper I was carrying, saw my mistake, and asked for directions. Got there on time.
Classes are cancelled today to give people a day off in exchange for having been sent out preaching yesterday. Last week I noticed that I was feeling particularly tired, and put it down to having not really taken a day off for a LONG time. So today I am avoiding the office across campus and anything having to do with school or church work. Result…. I took down all the curtains in the house and ran them through some washing machines and dryers at a laundromat. That only took a little more than an hour…. Ironing required a couple more, and rehanging another 30 minutes. Things don’t look an awful lot different, but we can KNOW that they’re clean now. I can’t recall the last time we could say that.