Festival Finale

I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to stay for the last day of the Festival before; I’m grateful I had the opportunity this time…and many others joined me.  Central Presbyterian Church was full for all three events this morning.  It was wonderful to see the Rev. Louise Westfall, Senior Minister of Central – formerly of Cleveland!  We were once in a clergywomen’s group together.

First up, the Rev. David Lose, President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  Many of my colleagues and I have developed great appreciation for his writings on the lectionary texts.

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He preached a beautiful sermon on the concept of God forgetting the sins of Israel and restoring them to a new covenant.  What does it mean to have a God who chooses to forget our mistakes and faults, a God who has selective amnesia?

We then heard a “lecture” — that’s what the program called it — what would I call it?  A roof-raising?  A clinic in dynamic rhetoric?  The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III brought the house down with this presentation entited, “Preaching the Prophetic Blues in a Post-Soul (Post-Modern) World”

**FILE** In this April 4, 2008 file photo, Rev. Otis Moss III speaks during a news conference at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Moss, 37, will become head of Trinity United Church of Christ in June 2008, taking over after the long-planned retirement of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

We were told to preach as blues artists…do not be afraid to go into the abyss with people, but do not leave them there.  Blues works because it describes people’s pain but it does not wallow in that pain.  The blues are not sorrow.  The blues allow you to get up in the morning with a sense of meaning and purpose.  The blues say, “You have not overcome me.”

Moss preaches once a year on the story of Tamar.  Why?  Because he knows that women in the congregation have been violated.  And he knows that there are preachers who stand in the pulpit in collusion with the violators.  “Tamar wore sackcloth and ashes, but not forever…there’s a time to change those clothes and put on new ones.”

He encourages preachers to prepare well.  Only if you’ve prepared well can you improvise (like a great jazz artist).  He encourages preachers to find their own voice and be themselves, but also to learn from a wide range of other preachers…”don’t just listen to preachers like you or you’ll be boring!”

He is one of the most skilled expositors I’ve heard.  He practices what he preaches.  He was completely prepared, 100% present in the moment.  Energetic, funny, and he answered people’s questions with care and grace.

I wanted him to end with a prayer session for the Cavs (he is from Cleveland after all).  That was my only disappointment.

Last preacher for the Festival was the Rev. Yvette Flunder of City of Refugee UCC in San Francisco.

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Her sermon title was “Overcoming Fear-Based Religion.”  She calls on preachers to be bold and prophetic, even though it is often costly to do so.

She says that churches should not just say, “All are welcome.”  You have to be specific.  You have to name the people who are welcome so they know for sure.  “After all,” she said, “the constitution of the United States says, ‘We the people’, but at that time ‘we the people’ was only white male property-owners.”  “All are welcome” doesn’t mean anything until you flesh it out.

And after worship and communion, 1800 preachers head home, perhaps not well-rested, but certainly well-fed.

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