Sunday, May 5, 2013

Preaching, some years in.

I have gone through roughly three phases in my preaching.

1. Years 1-5ish. Every Thursday at 11am I would write a sermon, come what may. I read through it several times before Sunday and had the manuscript well in hand. I focused on learning how to preach by reading good preaching and then producing good sermons on paper.

2. Years 5ish-7ish. I wrote my sermons the Thursday the week before the sermon was to be preached. The week of the sermon I worked hard on memorizing if not the whole sermon, then at least the first few paragraphs. My focus changed much more to delivery.

3. Years 7ish-just about 9. With several years through the lectionary now I only write sermons I feel like writing. If I have that itch to really say something new or something strikes my fancy, I sit down and write that sermon. If not, then I look over an old manuscript before the service and take it with me into the pulpit, but generally preach not from that manuscript but from a mental outline, or start with idea that develops before or during the Mass itself that morning.

I have no illusions about being a world class preacher. I continue to learn more and I hope that I keep improving. I don't necessarily recommend or not recommend any of the methods I have used or am using. Well, I do recommend learning to preach by reading good preachers. In fact, I believe that is the only way to learn. But other than that, I have almost no advice worth taking. I keep trying new things and I'm sure my list will not stop at three methods.

Preaching is work. Like any art, you have to learn the rules by rote before you can bend and break them and make the art your own. And, just as in art, you can't go breaking all of them all the time. Picasso is just trash: he breaks all the rules all the time and it's just stupid. But Hieronymus Bosch inspires, frightens, and awes precisely because he is a very technical rule-following artist who knows where to bend and break the rules.

In the preaching art, this kind of thing can only come with time - and, I think, only with time in a given place. A certain rapport must be built with a specific people before certain rules can be broken. For example, you can't preach this sermon in your first month at your parish: but it is an amazing sermon once you have earned your stripes and honed your art.

Likewise, this week the following sermon came my way from a friend. I think it manages to break about every rule in the book - certainly the first rule of us at Gottesdiesnt: thou shalt not use the 3-year lectionary. And it is brilliant. I love it, and I would never preach it. It is not me. But I have done similar things with humor and surprise and quirky looks at the text that did come from me and fit my preaching and my parish. You can't preach like this every week, and you've got to earn the right to do it. But being able to preach like this is one of the things that keeps you sane. If preaching is never truly enjoyable for the preacher then bad things start to happen.

At any rate: I hope I keep reading surprising sermons and I hope I keep learning more and creating a few myself.


S. Easter 6.13 “Bubble Boy” John 5:1-4. Rev. Kevin Martin

I told the Tuesday morning bible study group that I wasn’t going to talk about the Bubble Boy from Seinfeld this morning, no matter how tempting it might be, and Tuesday morning it looked pretty tempting. But by Friday morning, the temptation was basically overwhelming, and my bones grew weary of holding it in, so… do you know about the Bubble Boy from the old Seinfeld show?
Ah, let me tell you about him then, since you’re wondering. He relates. Trust me…

Paul Simon wrote a song about the boy who had to live in a big plastic bubble because of a rare immune disorder (that tugs at the heartstrings) and Seinfeld picked up on this—in his no hugging, no learning fashion. He’s visiting a boy who lives in a hermetically sealed bubble in his parent’s living room (any air from the outside world would presumably kill him) and is a big fan of Seinfeld’s, so he goes to visit with George and Elaine.

Thinking the boy will be young, meek, innocent, and heart breakingly cute, they are surprised to find the Bubble Boy is actually a surly, rude, mean-spirited teenager (whom we never see, only hearhis Northeastern accent—which sounds like the New Jersey state anthem played through an electric shaver) who uses his infirmity to manipulate, irritate, and basically torture everyone around him, but who put up with it because he’s the Bubble Boy and isn’t it tragic and sad?

The Bubble Boy berates George for being a moron, so they play a grudge game of Trivial Pursuit. It comes down to the last question which is the Bubble Boy’s for the win and it’s “Who invaded Spain in the 8th century?” The Bubble Boy goes (correctly) “That’s easy! It’s the Moors” And George goes “oh, no; I’m sorry. It’s the Moops!” The Bubble Boy points out it’s a misprint, (there are no Moops!) but George stands firm and a melee ensues where the Bubble Boy tries to choke George through his rubber gloves and the bubble is pierced and the air leaks out and an angry mob chases Seinfeld, George, and Elaine, shouting “Who would hurt the Bubble Boy?”
You really should You Tube it and watch. The genius of this episode is that it shows how the infirm, and tragically suffering aren’t always lovable and cute. Sometimes they are mean and manipulative; using their infirmity to torment all those around them…

Such, I think, is precisely the case with the man at the pool of Bethesda whom Jesus encounters this morning in our Gospel. He is the ancient Bubble Boy, if you will…

St. John is having fun with this story, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t as well. St. John mentions laconically that there was this Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem where an angel would descend periodically and stir up the water and the first one in the pool after the stirring was healed of any disease. This lame guy had been there 38 years, and Jesus visits him. Upon seeing him, Jesus asks (literally, in the Greek) “Do you want to be healthy?ugihV and who wouldn’t want to be ugihV, really?

The sick dude answers saying: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. Someone else always gets the jump on me…” Now, two things:1) Lame-guy didn’t answer Jesus’ question. Jesus did not ask if he couldn’t get in the pool. He asked if he wants to be healthy? 2) after 38 years, why does lame-dude have no one to put him in the pool? Because he is such a rotten, lousy pain in the neck, he alienates all his friends, that’s why! We learn this, reading between the lines, in the rest of the story!

So, Jesus says: “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” And the Bubble Boy, I mean the lame guy, is healthy, whole, and walks immediately. Now, the Jews stop him and berate him for carrying his cot, which they define as “work” which is not lawful on the Sabbath. Instead of telling them to buzz off because he’s just been made ugihV for the first time in his life, the man blames Jesus for the supposed infraction. When they ask Jesus’ Name, the lame-guy doesn’t have it, because he didn’t care enough to even ask or say thanks.

Jesus finds the guy in the temple and gives one of His more ominous warnings (Jesus is not being as nice to the irritating Bubble Boy as He’s supposed to be, either!) that he has been made healthy, but “sin no more less a worse thing come upon you.” That is, don’t rat Me out, quit using your troubles as a weapon against others, dude. And so,Mr. Lame-Dude immediately stirs up an angry mob against Jesus, rushing to tell the Jews that is was Jesus who made the Bubble Boy sin, so go get Him, make Him pay!

If there is a more annoying guy in the Bible, more ungrateful, mean, and manipulative, a more Lame Dude in every sense of those words, than this guy, I haven’t run across him! The original Bubble Boy, for sure!

But here’s the thing: we’re all Bubble Boys in this respect: just like the lame dude, we often use our infirmity as a weapon to play on the kindness of strangers and manipulate them to our own selfish ends. We play that game like pros, all of us, some of the time, and some of us all of the time. But Jesus is onto us. The question for the lame guy is His question to you right now: “Do you want to be healthy?” Do you? Really? Or would you rather keep using sickness as a weapon against God and others? Do you want to be whole and happy and sound, or do you kind of like wallowing in the misery you’ve found?

It’s a serious question. And, like the Bubble Boy, we often have a whole series of lame excuses for why we are in our miserable state—“no one helps me, other people are mean and greedy,” and on and on. But Jesus just fixes us with that Stare and says “Do you want to be healthy?”
Do you?

‘Cause with a Word, He’ll make you whole and hilariously ugihV, healthy beyond imagination! 

Jesus doesn’t need angels or magic pools. Just a Word, a touch, and you’re healthy as a horse! Joy and peace are yours in a flash. But is that what you really want? The lame guy at Bethesda, like the Bubble Boy, had no real desire to be healthy or to leave his hermetically sealed world. First thing Bubble Boy does with his new found health is to turn on the One who healed Him, turn Him into the ones who would kill Him for making lame dudes like us ugihV healthy and whole…!

I’ve got good news and bad news for you this morning, Bubble Boys and Girls: Jesus has come and means to burst your bubble in which you’ve sealed yourself. He means to let in the fresh air of His Kingdom, He means to huff and puff and blow your little house down! He means to give you His rude, good health—eternally and entirely, with a Word, with a sip of His blood, a bite of His Body as your own at His Supper.

Which is first bad news for those of us who have learned to use our sin and misery as weapons to manipulate and milk sympathy from others. But it’s good news for those who are tired of living in the Bubble beside Bethesda’s Pool!

The Kingdom of Jesus is a vast, splendid, mountainous Paradise for body and soul. Bust your Bubble and breathe that bracing air!Sure, the prospect is at first daunting. But for those who long to be wholly, hilariously ugihV, it’s here,now, in Word and Sacrament for you: joy beyond describing, Peace surpassing all understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.


  1. I had the privilege of hearing that sermon from Pastor Martin this morning! I've never known anyone else to draw a meaningful parallel between a sitcom and the Gospel...I also fondly remember him referencing "The Hangover" from the pulpit once.

  2. It's a great take, one which dares to examine the question posed by Jesus with all seriousness it deserves. It could have readily been used in other circumstances, by our Lord. The people of Nazareth didn't really want to get well, really washed in the blood of the Lamb. They seem to have been into cheap entertainment and seeing a side-show of wonders and miracles, similar to those said to have occurred in nearby Capernaum. Their preconceptions exploded when Mary's Boy spoke of Isaiah's healing prophesies being fulfilled in Him, as He sat down before their eyes, the enfleshed I AM. Hearing the enfleshed Word can be as difficult as eating the Word's flesh. Little if any healing was done by Home-town Boy in Nazareth; instead, He resolutely strode through a crowd bent not on their getting over sin's disease, but on Him body being tossed over a cliff.

    I think Christ is indisputably the Great Psychiatist (e.g., He spoke of the unconscious ... and all that driven trash emerging from that innards of men ... a number of years before Freud ever capitalized on such for fame and fortune). His question of the bed-bound dude fits nicely, with the assertion. Anyone who day after day confronts those afflicted with a somatoform disorder, say, or perhaps a deep-seated depressive neurosis (an old-fashioned concept ever since DSM-IV, to be sure, but still quite spot on and useful in my book) knows that folks may in fact not want to get well.

    The occurrence of disease may not necessarily be the result of sin (Jn 9); but mind you, it is most certainly true that illness is experienced by sinners. We are all bubble people, as the homilist contends, with our potentials and horizons sharply curtailed by our sin-besmirched nature. Limits there are, but manipulation is not beyond the grasp of any one of us. Disease can potentially be used for significant secondary gain, be the benefit the means to secure a guaranteed income, attention and nurturance, pity, admiration, self-punishment, the very useful pillorying of others, or even the extra time allowing one to bone up on Moorish history and become proficient in trivia.

    There ought to be a short label for the manipulators of opportunity, be that opportunity the short distance between Africa and Spain, or the availability of people to advance one's self-interest. Misprint or not, "moops" might do.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  3. Some more of my recent favorites by Rev Martin, should you be interested:


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