Thursday, June 4, 2009

This American Life and My Sermons

I'm a regular listener of This American Life, the off-beat public radio show. The show includes incredible stories each week and I often find inspiration for my sermons in them.

On May 3, I preached a sermon titled "A Church Full of Rejects" about my understanding of the church as a place where people who have been rejected are welcome, because after all Christ, whom we worship, was rejected. One of the illustrations I used came from an episode of TAL called "This I Used to Believe." (The title is a takeoff from another NPR series "This I Believe"--which is also well worth listening to.) The entire episode was about people who used to believe something and what happened to make them change their belief.

The particular story that caught my attention was, of course, about faith. The story had two parts. The first was the story of a football coach at a Christian high school in Texas. Every year, his team played another team from a school for juvenile delinquents, and every year no one would come and cheer for this team. It was made up of kids who had been given up on. So, the coach called upon half of his team's fan base to come to the game and cheer for the opposing team--cheer for those who had no one to cheer for them. (This was the part of the story I used in my sermon--i.e. the church should be the community that cheers for the ones who have no one to cheer for them).

The second part of the story--the part a little too complicated to fit into this particular sermon at least--was about a woman named Trish Sebastian who heard of what the coach had done and wrote him an e-mail thanking him for his compassion and confessing that she used to be a Christian but had given up her faith after the death of a close friend. The coach was moved by her e-mail and contacted her and they began a correspondence that led to phone calls. Each of them felt that perhaps God was using these interactions to help Sebastian regain her faith. In the end, however, their dialogues turned out to be more of a debate about propositional truths--e.g. proofs for God's existence, etc. rather than something that enabled Sebastian to believe again. It was an interesting example of how when believers profess absolute certainty they can turn off those whom they mean to attract. It was especially interesting to hear Ira Glass, the show's host who happens to be raised Jewish but now an atheist, offer more comforting and spiritually encouraging words than the devout Christian.

Similarly, I would highly recommend another recent episode of TAL that has to do with faith. This episode is entitled "Return to the Scene of the Crime" and deals with people returning to places where important events happened in their lives. Dan Savage, a writer who also happens to be an atheist, ex-Catholic and gay, shares about his struggles with faith after the death of his mother, a devout believer. His writing is powerful and his struggles with the faith he was raised in are poignant.
Grace and Peace,

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