Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fretting the Sermon

In recent years I've told myself the following story:

I used to be anxious about my procrastination-based approach to writing my sermon each week. I felt I should do what my friends do-- many claim to have their sermons done by Thursday, which means they can potentially have Saturday free! Imagine! One friend (who has also been a mentor) used to write her sermon every morning in her office, Monday through Thursday, for an hour-and-a-half to two hours each day. Thursday she would go home, sermon ready for Sunday.

I used to fret about all this.

But then, I have told myself in recent years, I came to accept what is my sermon-writing-style. I think about the texts all week long. My thoughts marinate. I wait to be struck with my opening salvo-- which, in my experience, usually means, the sermon will simply flow, at that point-- and then I can begin. And if that happens on Saturday, well then, that's what will happen, and that's how I'll do it.

And look! My favorite international women's clergy creator of community even has a weekly hangout known as the 11th Hour Preacher's Party! So, no worries, right?

Except then there's a day like yesterday. I awoke tired from a long day before (doing wonderful things, to be sure). I also awoke with the remnants of back pain that had been nagging me for a couple of days. And I awoke... most decidedly... not in the Good Place...

[SIDEBAR: My kids have recently turned me on to "The Good Place," the NBC comedy starring Kristin Bell and Ted Danson about the afterlife, and lots of imagined complications thereof. It's smashing. I want to quote it all the time, because it's so, so funny and smart. Now, back to our irregularly scheduled blogpost.]

...by which I mean:

Not in a place where I felt ready to write.

In a place where I felt compelled to stew over the morning's news for a good many hours.

Not in a place where the "opening salvo" was at all obvious to me.

In a place where my mood was dark.

To be fair, I've been in worse "places" trying to write a sermon. Anyone out there ever try to write a sermon when they were in the middle of some kind of conflict, with friends, or family, or colleagues? UGH. Nothing worse. First of all, if I'm mad, I feel like a hopeless hypocrite... how dare I try to say something helpful about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or life, the universe, and everything if I'm in that state?

But yesterday was the pits. I didn't feel well physically, I didn't feel on or available mentally and/ or spiritually, and I didn't feel the flow. At. All.

But I did what you do. Sometimes we are asked to just plant one foot in front of the other, either physically or metaphorically speaking. As Anne Lamott keeps reminding us in these anxious days, Left, Right, Left, Breathe.

So, I did that. I started with something that seemed like it might work.

Ultimately, it did. But I was writing until about 10:00 Saturday night, and then I had to get up at 6:15 to finish it. (I know, boo hoo.)

Interestingly, at 6:30, when I opened up my laptop, I saw something. A word. One word that ended up being the lynchpin for the whole thing.

I think my sermon might have been better if I had started earlier in the week.

But I also think that, that thing we clergy say encouragingly to one another, might actually be true: The Holy Spirit has our back.

Another thing is also true; If what you've got is a dog, walk it. Walk it proud.

Someone said to me that they thought it was good that I fretted over my sermon each week, that I wasn't casual or careless about it. I am amazed at the thought that anyone might not; certainly, no one I know treats this aspect of our job-- our call, we call it-- that way. I do fret. Here are the first words of my sermon from Sunday October 22:

Sometimes it amazes me that I dare to climb into a pulpit to offer a word on the gospel. It amazes me that anyone dares to do it! That’s because, if you spent any time reading the gospels, you pretty quickly have to come face to face with the fact that the religious professionals do not come off well. Not at all. Priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees… the whole long list of those who attempt to speak for God are portrayed as lacking. With one notable exception. 

I think that paragraph is demonstrably true. But I also fret about the careless way it seems to dismiss as hacks all the representatives of a religion that is the mother of my own. I am aware that the gospels are, to an extent, polemics. They are written from a defensive posture in the midst of a hostile environment. But I am also aware-- and I know I don't emphasize this enough-- that this is a family fight, a brother against brother situation. And the last thing we need in this environment in which white supremacy is rearing its hideous head is fuel for any fire directed at anti-Judaism.

I fret about my sermon. I struggle with how to say what I want to say in a way that doesn't play into old, harmful tropes about Jews (or any outsiders, for that matter). I also struggle, some weeks, with what to say.

Writing a sermon is a trust fall. You know that exercise when one person closes their eyes, and falls backwards into the arms of six or so people? Writing a sermon can feel like closing your eyes and falling backwards into... hopefully, God, the Spirit, But, sometimes, my own hobby horses, my own prejudices, my own certainty.

Every week, I trust, and I fall.


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