Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Preaching St. Valentine’s Day

If you are not using the Common Lectionary this week, try something on St. Valentine. For a three point visual sermon, find imagery for

1. Introductory theme-building image of a heart-shaped chocolate candy box
2. St. Valentine (drawing, portrait, or stained glass portrayal)
3. Add a picture of a Hershey’s Kiss chocolate
4. Find picture of Milton Hershey with orphans he helped educate
5. Close out with the theme image of the heart-shaped candy box

Additional slides could be of brief scriptural texts, such as the Shema (Deut. 6:4), the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) or the love hymn in I Corinthians 13:13.

You might begin your message with a description of St. Valentine, his ministry, and how red heart-shaped symbols come to be associated with the day. Next, describe how chocolates come to be associated with Valentine’s gifts (heart-healthy!), and then tell the story of the Hershey Foundation and their important work of providing education to orphans in the 20th century to now. Wrap it together with reference to the scriptural texts and the message of love.

Develop the sermon by gaining background on St. Valentine, the heart-healthy benefits of chocolate, and the Hershey Foundation:

Find information about the Valentine story here and more here.

Those desiring to take a prophetic edge might connect Valentine’s willingness to marry people whom the state/empire determined could not be married to each other, with the willingness of some of today’s clergy and churches to perform marriage/commitment ceremonies for people who may not have the blessing of the state.

Why is chocolate associated with Valentine’s Day? Find out about heart-healthy chocolate in New York Times article and one from the Cleveland Clinic.

How do Hershey’s Kisses relate to Valentine’s Day chocolates? Read the story of the Hershey Foundation and Milton Hershey’s view on stewardship.

Many think of the film Chocolate(2000) for illustrating this theme, and there are scenes that would fit, including when one character comes into the chocolate shop in a cranky mood, and after sipping a delicious hot chocolate for the first time, has a mood change!

To add to the fun, have Hershey’s Kisses in the pews and invite people to enjoy them during the sermon!

Finding a chocolate-scented candle and placing it on the altar/table would add to the ambience!

"The Hurt Locker" Evokes Response

This film clearly deserves the respect it has gathered with nine Academy Award nominations. The story, based on a book written by a reporter embedded with a U.S. military unit in the early years of the Iraq war, centers around the daily experiences of an "EOD" (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team on hundreds of risky missions to save the lives of civilians and soldiers by disabling high-explosive devices planted in Iraq.

As the film's director, Kathryn Bigelow says, this film and its story is "haunting and pervasive and provocative.” Her purpose, she says, "was just to humanize these particular individuals.” The full interview is from Slant Magazine (6-26-09).

As the story winds down, there is a remarkable conversation at the start of chapter 17 at about the 1:58:03 mark, where J.T. says he is not ready to die, wounded by some random piece of shrapnel and “I bleed out like a pig in the sand.” Worse, he fears no one will care, “I mean, my parents will care but they don’t count. Who else?”

This scene provokes a response to do something for the real soldiers now on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, and for whom many congregations pray on a weekly basis. One way to respond is Holy Joe's Cafe, a Coffee House Ministry where United Church of Christ military chaplains invite U.S. soldiers into informal places where they can receive spiritual care and good coffee.

With this project congregations and individuals support the Coffee House Ministry and send Equal Exchange Coffee to the military chaplains in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. 125 chaplains now participate. Read their blog for the latest pictures and commentary.

Of course other denominations have their own programs, and this is just one way to respond to the feelings evoked by watching The Hurt Locker.

Another way to respond to this film is to read a report by Emily McGaughy, a Pacific School of Religion M.Div. 2009 graduate, on her year-long C.P.E. experience with wounded vets at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto (California) Healthcare System that included 30 hours of clinical chaplaincy and 10 hours of weekly classroom instruction. Her account was published in the Fall, 2009 PSR Bulletin,Volume 88, No. 2 and can be read here.

The Hurt Locker is now available on DVD, and would be a powerful film to show for a church film discussion, which would surely focus on issues of war and peace as prompted by the individual stories in the film, against the backdrop of the real-life experiences of Iraqis of all ages living in their war-torn nation.