Lessons from the Little Troubles of Life: Old First E-pistle 04.21.16

Lessons from the Little Troubles of Life: Old First E-pistle 04.21.16

I took last Sunday off — I needed to be in Brooklyn for my son’s engagement party. I had another preacher scheduled, who had to cancel. April S. and I, talking about something else, realized she would like to preach for me, and it would take up some time as she waits to begin a new job at Jefferson on May 1. I thank her for the help.

And next Sunday, I will be away again… in the midwest, first for Teresa’s Oblation in Kansas, then to visit with extended family in Kansas City, and finally to spread my mom’s ashes in St. Louis. I come back to Philly early Wednesday morning. Katrina F. will be our preacher. At Union these days, she’s still a member at Old First and is in the process of becoming a “Member in Discernment” on the way to ordination with the Philadelphia Association / UCC. Come out this Sunday and hear her preach: it’s one of the ways her home church can support her preparation for ministry.

Though I didn’t plan these two weekends in a row away, perhaps, I needed the 2-week break from preaching, considering what happened on April 3 and 10. How could my ‘sermon text’ go missing — just disappear in the pulpit — two weeks in a row? In twenty-five years plus that has never happened before. Even weirder — the second week, I took what I thought was the most careful path to make sure there was no trouble.

Here’s what occurred —

Week 1: I have been preaching from my iPad for a couple of years now. It saves on paper (though there is a question as to whether the energy the machine uses is a greater environmental detriment than the trees that would have been sacrificed?).

And like most moderns, for me composing on a computer with its endless editorial possibilities is much easier than handwriting.

More recently, I left off using Word (which I didn’t have on my work laptop) and have been using GoogleDocs, so that’s the platform I preach from (well, that and the pulpit, and the Bible…).

Anyway, it had never occurred to me until the morning of Sunday, April 3, that if the church’s internet is down, I can’t access a GoogleDoc or my text . (I thought — I guess — once I pulled it up, it was on the iPad itself, or some such…)

Perhaps the internet was down because we had been resetting the router to try and get one of the office laptops to connect to the wireless. Or because Comcast, like all other human institutions (and humans!) is fallible. Or maybe God was trying to teach me something…

The choir was singing the anthem. I was in the chair behind the pulpit getting the iPad ready. And my sermon text was unavailable. I can preach textless if I plan a sermon like that. But when I am not ready and when I really liked the text I’d written, I get all sweaty and flushed!

Luckily, I’d mostly written the sermon as an e-mail to myself on my phone, while commuting around for pastoral calls. So I had a slightly earlier version of the sermon on my phone. And following Corey’s losing the biblical intro.s from her phone as the lector that morning, I figured it was just good clergy solidarity with the laity. We all have unwelcome difficulties to bear and get through. I hope it mostly came off smoothly.

Week 2: The next Sunday, April 10, I got to church early. I was going to cut and paste my sermon from the GoogleDoc to the notepad on my iPad. But then I decided to play it really safe — and I simply sent it to the printer.

I heard the printer print out the multiple pages, and then retrieved them from the printed tray. The text on the top page printed fine, and there were 4 sheets under the top piece of paper. I have never known our printer to produce only part of a print job, so I grabbed the stack of paper, picked up the wireless mike and a newly recharged battery (that we now keep in the office so that the power doesn’t get switched off by AA and I’m left with a whole recharger full of powerless batteries) and headed to the Sanctuary.

Should I have started to sweat at the beginning of the service when the battery didn’t work? Nah, I can take that one in stride, and sprint back over to the office during the first hymn in search of  a battery that actually had juice. So it was not until I was actually preaching, as I turned over the first page of my text, that I realized, “We have a problem, Mission Control.”

Yes, the printer printed the first sheet, page 1 and on the backside of the same sheet page 2 fine, page numbers and all. But then it spit out 3 blank pages instead of the rest of the sermon text. Again, if I’ve composed a sermon to be preached without a text, I can do it. But on the fly, and when I’m sort of wedded to the text I has prepared…

First world problems to be sure. But could God also be trying to teach me something? Is it possible that God is so intimately in even the minor movements of our lives that there are lessons — spiritual  and otherwise — to be learned not just from the cataclysmic events in our world, but in the personal details of one’s very own life?

Getting used to how many ways technology needs to be backed up, I remember the computer jokes well past their prime which usually had Jesus and Satan in some contest of computer skills, with Jesus victorious and Satan losing all his work in a computer crash. The punch line was always “Jesus saves.”

On week 2, I had deliberately sent the finished sermon text  to myself as an e-mail that I could access, even if the internet was down, via my phone. Paper or the printer had failed me.

Maybe God is trying to teach me to preach from my cellphone?

One of you kindly said I handled it smoothly enough and the transition didn’t break the flow. Good, because I liked the sermon! And I love the Donnie McClurkin anthem “We Fall Down” — and then its congregational reprise at the end of the service was delightful, and spiritually deep, but dependent of the sermon’s message…

Was God trying to teach me something?

Well, the sermon, on Jesus asking Simon Peter three times “Do you love me?” was about perseverance in doing God’s will. About how we will fail others and God… inevitably letting ourselves down and wanting to give up. Check!

But, the story of Jesus questioning Simon Peter challenges us: we cannot let our failures and mistakes be the reality which limits us. Rather, we need to trust in God who continues to trust in us. Who loves us bruised and broken, and still have work for us to do. Not work or a world how we foresee, but work we have to do nonetheless. Work that only we can do. That God’s waiting on us to do. Counting on us, despite ourselves…

Yes, it’s all ridiculous — in a tradition that began orally… all of our holiest passages passed down by memory from one person to the other, and then survived at the hands of scribes copying sacred texts by candlelight through the dark ages — I can’t utilize modern technology sufficiently to make my work and ministry easier. Certainly one of life’s littler crosses to bear!

But, I guess, if I am preaching to myself as well as all of you (which is always my goal 1) because me and my struggles aren’t all that different, and 2) without the sermons I offer, there’s hardly no one who ever preaches to me), then there is no reason to throw up my hands and quit. Rather, trust in forgiveness and weather on…

See you in church,

Michael