Monday, June 12, 2006

June 11, 2006 - What Cancer Teaches

One decision we preachers have to face, sooner or later, is how much of ourselves and our personal stories to reveal in our sermons. I learned long ago, out of respect for their privacy, not to use stories about my kids as sermon illustrations. I’m generally cautious, too, about spilling too many details of my own life from the pulpit. I know how quickly that can become the main focus: detracting from the purpose of the sermon, which is to lead people to God. (One of my aims in writing this blog, if truth be told, is to avoid the need to use the pulpit as a health bulletin board for the people of our congregation – who, understandably, want to know the latest news.)

Yet, I’ve also learned there are certain occasions when a first-person narrative is unavoidable. When my father nearly died of a burst aneurysm some years back, and my brothers Jim, Dave and I spent many days out in California, visiting him in intensive care, I came back for Easter Sunday and preached about that experience. There have been a few other occasions, as well, when I’ve violated my unofficial principle, and talked about myself. One of the realities of ministry is that the life of a parish pastor is lived in the public eye. That’s not going to change. We may as well get used to it.

So, this morning, I depart from the lectionary (that ecumenically-inspired list of recommended scripture passages), and preach a sermon, “What Cancer Teaches.” It’s the second time I’ve devoted a sermon to the subject of my struggle with cancer (the first was “God Our Strength,” on February 5th).

To read the manuscript of "What Cancer Teaches," click HERE.

As I sat down to write the manuscript last night, the words flowed out from my heart and mind rather quickly. Today, the same thing happens as I preach. It feels right to do this.

At the church door afterwards, some church members who are survivors of cancer and other serious illnesses come up and express their appreciation. It’s not that I’ve just given them the definitive word on surviving cancer. They’re glad I’ve broken the silence, sharing something of the inner life of a person facing life-threatening illness.

We live in a society that idolizes youth and good health. Often, the sick and disabled are marginalized, and are subtly made to feel, somehow, that they’re at fault for their condition.

The church is a community of all types and conditions of humanity – the sick as well as the healthy. We’re all in this together. We should share our stories with one another more often!

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