Monday, November 29, 2010

So Long, and Thanks For all the Fish, Douglas Adams

Well, I started Delmo Dorite Writes a little over five years ago whilst I was still working at Hinton Center, doing Spiritual Formation and Continuing Education, etc. Since then, I've been a parish pastor (Friedens ELCA, Gibsonville, NC) and the Assistant to the Bishop (Southeastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Atlanta, GA.) Through it all, being Delmo Dorite has helped keep me sane, and I have enjoyed it tremendously. But it's time for a change.

This is my last post here, BUT! the work goes on in a new format. The Rev'd Dr. John Fairless and I ("Two Bubbas and a Bible, Inc.") have long collaborated on projects and now we have a new one. It's called The Lectionary Lab. (You can access it at

It's a combination of textual comments, one-liners, illustrations and short sermons designed to help the parish pastor get started on the weekly task of preaching the Word. Brought to you by two working pastors who've been doing just that week after week, for a collective 50 years or so. I hope you'll check it out and let us know what you think. (It could also be a good Bible Study and devotional for anyone, preacher or not.)



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nov. 14, 2010

Installation Sermon for Sally Fran Ross
Preached Nov. 14, 2010 at Luther's Chapel, Pulaski, Miss.

Texts: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

It was during Lent, 25 years ago. I was the pastor of a very old Lutheran church north of Charlotte. North Carolina.

On the wall of the apse, above the altar, there was a stained glass window in the shape of a cross lit by light bulbs.

One Wednesday afternoon I was putzing around the altar getting things ready for mid-week service when I noticed that one of the bulbs had gone out.

I resolved to change it, but, as often happens with me, I got distracted and forgot about it until the middle of the pre-service Fellowship Meal.

I excused myself and went into the church and then upstairs and opened a little door in the hall, got down on my knees to change the bulb. This is when I saw Seth.

Seth wasn't a bad kid; he was just six, and mischievous, he got into things.

This night Seth had gone into the church alone and he was pulling the big, heavy pulpit chair over to the front of the altar.

The altar was set for Communion, with a plate full of wafers, a stack of trays and a cup of wine already set out under a shear, white veil.

In a moment I realized what Seth was doing; he wanted to get a look at that table, and I visualized him pulling everything down on his head and falling out of the chair, etc. etc.

So, without thinking I barked out; "Seth, get down from there, you're going to hurt yourself!"

I will never forget the look of pure terror that washed over Seth's face as he jerked his head up and looked into the face of Jesus staring down at him from above the Altar.

He started crying and yelling "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" and ran out of the room.

I left what I was doing and followed Seth out of the Church, across the parking lot into the Fellowship Hall, where he was weeping into his grandmother's large and welcoming lap.

Grandma, Grandma, Grandma; Jesus yelled at me. I want to go home NOW!

Most of the time, I find church to be a pleasant and happy place. A place where, like Seth, I feel safe and welcome and at home.

But every once in a while, church can become a frightening, indeed a scary place, a place I would just as soon not be.

Like today while I was reading that Gospel lesson.

That's pretty scary stuff. All that talk about war and destruction and earthquakes and famines and pestilence and terror and persecution.

Well, it scares me to death; and I'm like Seth; I'm ready to go screaming out of the room, looking for my Grandma's lap.

Before we go too far down this scary road, I think it important that we read this text carefully.

What Jesus is getting at here is something we all know both from history and personal experience: the world is indeed a scary and dangerous place; full of danger, trouble and heartache.

Jesus point throughout this text is to remind us where to look for our salvation, for grace, for hope, for love; when trouble inevitably comes.

We are not to look to big buildings and institutions, we are not to look to governments (nations and kingdoms) we are not to look to kings and governors and multinational corporations.

All these things will fail you; indeed will turn against you.

When trouble comes, the one thing you can count on is God.

The one group of people you can rely on is the community of Christ, the gathered people of God, the Church.

We are here today to talk about and celebrate and cement the basic connection that exists between what it means to be THE CHURCH and what it means to be A PASTOR

The two belong together: a church needs a pastor, and a pastor needs a church.

It's hard to have one without the other. To put it bluntly, being a Pastor is not a personal identity.

Being called to preach implies being called to preach to PEOPLE.

Nobody is called to preach to the trees or the woods or to themselves, People are called of God to preach to the church and to the world.

We have been called to preach and pastor because the world is a dangerous and difficult place, and people struggle with life and need both comfort and guidance.

Prof. Marty Saarinan told the following story to every Senior class at LTSS, Columbia, SC

Marty graduated from Seminary back in the early 1950s and went to his first call in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pretty remote and rugged; then and now.

Not too long after Pastor Marty got there he learned of an elderly couple who lived way back in the woods and who seldom got to church anymore and he resolved to go visit them.

He was advised to borrow a jeep, which he did, and he drove the paved road and then the dirt road, and then two ruts, and then a creek bed, and then he parked the Jeep and climbed up a hill and through the wild bushes and found a cabin with a tiny wisp of smoke wafting into the sky from the chimney.

Pastor Marty walked onto the porch and knocked on the door and waited and waited and knocked again and waited and then he heard a noise and the door opened and a little old man stared at Marty for a long time and then he recognized the collar and turned around and shouted to his wife in her rocker: "Anna, God has not forgotten us!"

In our hectic, secular, modern world, in the midst of wars and natural disaster and economic uncertainty and the other more mundane trials and tribulations of ordinary life; it is hard for most of us to cling to an awareness of God's love and concern and presence.

The purpose of the Church and the purpose of the pastor, the purpose to which you, Sally Fran, have been called and are now set apart, is to be a constant reminder to the world of God's love.

In a few moments, Pastor Ross will stand before me and you all need to imagine yourselves standing beside her because what we are about is a wedding of sorts.

I will ask her questions and she will make promises to preach and teach and serve and then

I will ask questions of the congregation, the people of God assembled, and ya'll will promise to treat her as God's gift to you that she is and to work with her in serving a needy world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And then I will pronounce you united as Pastor and congregation.

And, as I usually say to couples during a wedding sermon, if you (all) will remember the promises you make here to each other, and do your best to fulfill those promises with honesty and integrity and Christian charity,

God will be able to bless your union, will fill your life together with joy and faith and loving service to each other and the world.

Amen and amen.