Date: February 13, 2011
Liturgical Sunday: Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sermon Title: Did He really say that?
Knox Presbyterian [audio:https://wordsfromthemiddle.ca/wp-content/uploads/110213_-_Knox.mp3|titles=Did He really say that?]
St. Mark’s Presbyterian [audio:https://wordsfromthemiddle.ca/wp-content/uploads/110213_-_St_Marks.mp3|titles=Did He really say that?]
I have been very much of two minds lately (which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I can be of “two minds” about virtually anything) about what to put in this blog. There is still a small remnant of the “preachers must be perfect” heresy in me that makes me want to ensure that there is nothing in this blog that might give any evidence of fallen humanity. Silly I know but there you have it. The “other” mind is to just dump whatever shows up in this and I’m not sure that is all that helpful or useful either.
I hesitate to put things this way, lest it be interpreted as either self-pitying or manipulative, but there doesn’t seem to be all that much traffic on this blog so it probably doesn’t really matter what I put here 🙂 . . . except of course, it does.
What brings this to a head for me is whether or not I talk about any of the struggles that are involved in preaching. I know this is somewhat silly as most folks who go to church are not surprised that there may be a struggle or two involved in preaching at all. Add to that the complication of working full time and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it can be a challenge to stand in front of two congregations every Sunday and open the Word of God for them.
For anyone who knows me, this additional complication won’t be a surprise. I really care for the people of Knox and St. Mark’s and I really care about treating the Bible well. I want to do everything in my power to make sure that every Sunday there is something of potential value for everyone who is there. The complication comes in trying to figure out what that is week to week in the midst of the rest of life. Preaching isn’t particularly easy for anyone who is seeking more than simply speaking in public. Parenthetically, speaking in public is easy if you don’t care what you say. I sometimes joke with Heather that I am trying to do two full time jobs rather than a full time job with a part time gig on the side.
Where am I going in all of this? It is a reflection on trust, no matter what sort of screed it sounded like at the beginning. I was very dissatisfied with my last two sermons (this is where I am very, very, VERY afraid of bringing this up) and I think it was because I used sermons I have preached before. I hasten to add that there is nothing morally, ethically or spiritually wrong with preaching the “same” sermon more than once. A. W. Tozer is reported to have told anyone who came to preach to Tozer’s congregation that they “better not try something new on his people” or words to that effect. I have revisited sermon topics and texts to the great improvement of the sermon . . . sometimes. I am not entirely sure what was going on with the last two weeks. My feeling is that there was no life to the sermons even though they were well thought out, well written, theologically sound and all that. My feeling was that there was no spark and the question I have for me is, Who is responsible for that? It isn’t the congregations who consistently show up ready to meet God in a worship service. It isn’t the Holy Spirit who is far more interested in the well being of these two congregations than I can ever be. That really only leaves me and leaves me with a question or two.
First, have I become so arrogant that I am afraid of preaching from a manuscript? Am I so convinced that I always know what I am doing that I am no longer capable of using a manuscript as part of communicating truth to a group of truly excellent people? Am I “too good” to preach from notes? Did I sabotage myself?
Second, regardless of the answer(s) to the first question, why did I feel that I needed to use a manuscript? Have I lost confidence in the Holy Spirit to fill in my gaps to communicate to God’s people? Was I so concerned about having something in front of me that I forgot that the most significant preaching moments I have been part of for the past many months have all been when I eschewed a manuscript and simply preached? Why was I so reluctant to step into the pulpit and face the folks of Knox and St. Mark’s without a manuscript? An excessive awareness of my own unworthiness? Worry that I might step into the pulpit and admit I had nothing to say?
No matter, in one way at least. I told Heather, after telling myself, that I was going to preach without notes this week and I was hoping that the results would not be awful. The problem, of course, that perhaps the worst evaluator of a sermon or speech is the preacher or speaker. Now I’m not sure. I feel in a strange way that I am starting from the beginning again. It is like I am “auditioning” for these people and I really, really hope they won’t notice how bad I am. Where could that kind of thinking be coming from? Is it simply being out of practice? That would be odd as I only missed two Sundays. Is it a sudden outbreak of a peculiar brand of humility? I wish I knew.
Well, as is obvious, I have decided in favour of being more open and vulnerable in this blog and only time will tell if it is a strength, a weakness or something else.
Thanks for reading and I would very much value any feedback or input (always of course but especially) on the last three weeks.
May God bless you richly,