Sunday, July 14, 2013

Liturgy series part V: Sermon

Preaching on Epiphany at HFASS,
January 2013.  With the Abelkis clan.
Apologies that I am a day late with this post.  I have been working on producing a sermon for tonight at my congregation, Humble Walk Lutheran Church.

Preaching is one of the most misrepresented parts of the liturgy.  I think we often view it merely as a preacher standing behind a massive stone pulpit and issuing pedantic edicts to us in some sort of holier-than-thou persona.  If that is all that preaching is all about, why wouldn't we have a huge distaste for it?!

Preachers are portrayed in popular culture as buttoned up men who preach fire and brimstone judgment of others.  This rests on at least two problematic assumptions.  First, there are many different types of people who are called to be ministers of Word and Sacrament (in other words, pastors).  My denomination ordains women, LGBTQ persons, and so on.  Next, that it is the preacher's role to be above judgment and to tell others what God thinks of them.  This could also not be further from the truth.

My own understanding of what it means to be a preacher has been profoundly shaped by Gordon Lathrop's book, The Pastor: a Spirituality.  In this book, Lathrop discusses the pastor as being a broken symbol that points ever more closely to God as seen in Christ on the Cross.  The pastor is just as broken as all others.  Another formative piece for me is the Lutheran understanding of the priesthood of all believers.  This underscores that as a result of our baptism, we are all charged with preaching and carrying out the Gospel.  Some of us are set aside to preach and preside, but never set above.

The sermon is the point in the liturgy where the scriptures interact with the world.  Today as I prepare to preach on the Good Samaritan text, I am finding myself being ripped apart by the news of the Zimmerman verdict.  "Who is our neighbor?"  Stay tuned, there will be a blog post about this.

There are all sorts of methods for producing a sermon. Probably as many different methods as there are preachers.  I thought I would share my method.

1. Determine what text I will be preaching on (sometimes determined by the lectionary, sometimes selected based on a theme, sometimes picked for me by the pulpit supply congregation, etc.)

2. Read that text in a couple different translations and in my Greek-English interlinear Bible.

3. Begin mulling over the text.  I ask questions of it.  Pray about it.  Talk about it with a ton of people. Sometimes I crowd source my sermon questions on social media.

4. Go to text study.  A text study is a group of pastors, church leaders or other interested folks who study the texts with the intent of preaching them.  We talk about the implications of the text for our contexts and I draw on the wisdom of others.

5. Sometimes I consult commentaries and other resources.  Sometimes I don't.  One of my favorites is The Hardest Question, which reflects on the most difficult parts of the text.  I sometimes consult Working Preacher and usually look over The Text This Week.  I sometimes will do a google image search for images to pique my thought process.  I participate in the blogging discussion at RevGalBlogPals to engage with others about the sermonating process.

6. I usually begin my sermon with my own description of the text.  I refer to this as "opening up the text."  As I do this, I find that there are different things that stick out to me and I see things in a new way.

7. I sit quietly and wait for words to come.  Sometimes they do and I start writing.  Sometimes they don't, so instead I go for a walk or do some chores around the house to make space to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.

8. I generally end up writing two or three drafts of a sermon.  It always feel inadequate. But I choose to trust that the Holy Spirit will make something out of my words.

9. I pray a silent prayer that God would have my words be what they would be.  Then I preach.

10. I set aside all of my feelings about the way I preached the sermon and let it be.

Here are a few things that I hold true about preaching:

a. Preaching is a dynamic art.  A sermon is something that occurs for a specific community at a specific time.  Those same circumstances will never be replicated again.  This is why I do not believe in recycling sermons in their entirety.

b. Preaching is not a one-way communication, from preacher to congregation. Rather it is a continuation of a conversation that has occurred all week about the text.  The preacher is speaking to a specific community, and they should see themselves in the sermon.  The essence of the Gospel is "for you."

c. Sermons tie together the text with the times.  You cannot ignore what is going on in yourself, your community, and the world.  Keep one eye on the scriptures and one eye on the newspapers, as the old quote goes.  Or more accurately in my case, one eye on the twitter feed.

d. There are many ways to preach. It is not just someone standing behind a pulpit.  You can engage in conversational small groups, you can act out the scriptures, you can do a literal crowd sourcing sermon during the service.  The possibilities are endless.

Jesus watching over my Greek translations

Up next:
Part VI: Prayers of the People

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