When Earth is seen not as owned property but as a gift
Preparing to hear the core power of the Christmas story

A book about love and healing drawn from years of preaching

Today I will introduce you to a new book that, it turns out, is quite in harmony with a book I told you about recently here. The book to tell you about today is Life Is to Be Celebrated: Selected Sermons, Messages for the 21st Century, by the Rev. Robert Lee Hill

I will connect it with Poems in Glass, by Hasna Sal.

Life-CelebratedWhat they have in common is that both of the authors are artists. Bob Hill's form of art is the Christian sermon. Hasna Sal's forms of art are glass sculptures and poetry.

Both of these artists help us see our own world with greater clarity and inspiration. Both Hill's sermons and Sal's poetry and artwork are reflections of life's beauty in the midst of the pain, chaos and disaster that life sometimes drags in through our doors.

Hill's collection of sermons were nearly all preached when he was the senior minister at Community Christian Church in Kansas City from 1985 until 2015.

There's a lot of misunderstanding about the purpose of sermons, I've found. Some imagine that a sermon is just a chance for the preacher to share his or her own opinions about religious matters with a congregation.

Some think sermons are -- or should be -- just inspirational words to recharge our batteries for another week.

And some think they're merely clever words used to creatively beg for more donations to a faith community.

But let's look at what the Second Helvetic Confession, one of the several statements of faith from the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, says about preaching: "The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. . .(W)e believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful." But more than that, it says that even if the preacher "be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains true and good."

What that means for someone like Bob Hill is that every time he steps into the pulpit to preach, he carries with him an extraordinary burden. His task is to explain the biblical text so that God's word may become clear to the listeners and instruct them and guide them to act in ways that God wants them to act. And what is that way? As Hill shows over and over in this collection of sermons, that way is the way of love.

Not mushy romantic love but all-consuming, sacrificial love, the kind Jesus demonstrated in his life and ministry. Whether Hill is preaching about baseball great (and new member of the Baseball Hall of Fame) Buck O'Neil and his remarkable life or about the cry of anguish Jesus moaned from the cross -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -- Hill knows that God's way is the way of love.

Recently I had a chance to talk with Hill about his book and his preaching, and it's been recorded for YouTube. You can hear our conversation of about half an hour here. I think you'll get a much better sense of what Hill's sermons try to do by listening to him explain that in his own words instead of my spending any more words here on that task.

Poems-in-glassSo how else is Hill's book somehow related to Hasna Sal's lovely little book?

Her book, as I mentioned here the other day, contains not just poetry and prose, but also photos of her remarkable glass art work. She grew up a Muslim in India but attended Catholic schools there before coming to the U.S. and getting her architecture degree from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

Hasna Sal takes the world of color, texture and painful human frailty as her texts, not dissimilar from the way Hill draws on the written biblical text. From that text, she produces beauty and enlightenment and pathways the mind and spirit can follow to find truths they might otherwise have missed.

In one of the essays in her book, she notes this: "Perhaps my journey as a sculptor had been preordained to step beyond the liminalities of aesthetic and transcend into the realm of storytelling. My work could be a messenger of goodness, love, kindness, humanity and above all else, peace in the world and respect for all things God has made."

See? That's why I see both Bob Hill and Hasna Sal doing quite similar work, though in considerably different ways. And I think the two books together would be a terrific holiday gift for anyone.

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I hope you remember the brutal murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Like all such traumatic events caused by extremism or hate, the story never really ends, as I make clear in my new 9/11-related book, Love, Loss and Endurance. In the Tree of Life case, there's some recent hopeful news. A state agency in Pennsylvania has pledged $6.6 million toward redevelopment of the synagogue and the area around it. Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers says that the funds will help “transform this site that has been marked by horror…into one full of hope, remembrance and education.” The RNS story to which I've linked you doesn't go into any detail about how state funds can be used to support a religious institution, but it does says that "the campus will include a memorial; worship and education spaces; and a wing for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh." My guess is the state money will go toward the non-religious aspects of the site.

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P.S.: The annual art button competition for students for next year's Give Seven Days annual event is open and now has a Dec. 17 deadline. If you know high school artists, let them know. The link in the opening sentence will tell you all you need to know. The Seven Days commemoration marks the anniversary of the murders of William Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno by a neo-Nazi at Jewish sites in the Kansas City area in 2014. You can read more about that here.


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