Reflections on writing a sermon
Recently at least one professional (the Vernacular Curate – highly recommended) has written about sermon block. I had that this week – sort of. Then I experienced the other end of the scale – when God went into overdrive. Let me explain:
I’ve had a pretty stressful week with some important conversations taking place and a sermon to write for our main service today. We’re into Summer Sunday’s at St. Peter’s where rather than spreading ourselves across three congregations, we’re all meeting together at 10am. Bringing together people who have three discrete ways of worshipping is always an interesting experience – bit I think it’s now the bit of the year I like best, because there’s a real sense of unity and much more understanding between us than there has been in the past. It’s also a time when God has to opportunity to give us all the same message – but for that to happen it needs the preaching to listen very closely to what God’s saying, and be sure of the message that God wants heard. (But then that SHOULD be true of all sermons!)
This year we’re working our way through the story of Moses, and this week I came up against Exodus 12:1-13 The Passover. Go read it – if you know even a little bit of God’s story you’ll see that there’s a lot that could be preached about from a passage like this.
If I’ve learnt nothing else in the last two years (and the last year in particular), it’s that ministry can do wonders for your prayer life – when you’ve got little to give and lots going on behind the scenes of your life, any form of active ministry, ‘doing stuff’ for God, makes you even more fully reliant on God.
There is just so much theology to grapple with in Exodus 12. I don’t hold things in my memory very well – big concepts and ideas about God that are perhaps ‘common place’ to some, can often get lost in other things. The advantage is I come to every passage pretty fresh (even if it’s fairly familiar) and eager to learn what God wants to say through me, without too many pre-conceived ideas. The first thing for me to do then is to soak myself in the passage and some commentaries about it, and to pray – that the Holy Spirit will sift through all that theology for you!
But a sermon isn’t really about heavy theology, well at least not in my view (sorry, if you don’t agree). It’s about people, God’s people – the ones that know him, and the ones that don’t. Theology for a sermon should be creative – creating stories of God in action.
Amidst all the making connections between a passage of the Old Testament (in this instance) and the revelation of God in Christ (that’s the ‘Good News’ of the New Testament) I have to remember where the people I’m preaching to are. Being involved across the breadth of church activities helps: people tell you stuff; you know what’s been going round the prayer chains; you know something of what’s worrying the church leadership. Basically you know the highs and lows of people’s lives. They’re the bits that God wants to speak into. So you pray again – Holy Spirit, where does all that complicated theology meet all that need?
This week the first attempt at a sermon looked like this (it peter’s out): Sermon Exodus 12v1-13 Freedom to walk with God (Passover) By Friday I knew it was so much horseraddish – bit smelly, and rather too bitter (in other words heavy on the theology!)
God wants his Word heard. Somewhere during the week I knew he’d let me know what that Word needed to be – I just had to listen carefully. It’s not always like this, but yesterday (Saturday) there came a point in early afternoon when I was scribbling a few notes down – and suddenly I realised that the Holy Spirit was simply flowing a message out the end of my pen. I don’t normally hand write my sermons, but I wasn’t about to stop and get the computer out! I just kept going till the sermon was written (minus a few Biblical references I needed to check.) I typed it up later.
Not all sermons are like this – but sometimes I get a sense that God is really working overtime on this one. It’s almost a physical sensation as the Holy Spirit makes connections in your head that you know you’d never have thought of any other way.
That’s the time I expect a sleepless night – or some other domestic crisis. If God has an important message for his people, and I’ve sensed that, then you can be as sure as hell, so has the Devil! 4am this morning I was reading the first 12 chapters of Exodus (from The Message) in the office because I couldn’t sleep. I did get back to sleep later but only for a while. Pity my poor husband if you will.
I’ve known for some while now that lack of sleep makes me wholly dependent on God – and that’s the best way to preach a sermon, because that way the results usually give him the glory. Feedback today suggested that God spoke to people – it’s good to be able to say to myself ‘I told you so’, and to God: THANK YOU!
It’s just that when I let the Holy Spirit really take control like this (rather than dashing off a thinner sermon in my own strength), I’m a physical wreck afterwards! I was flakers on the sofa this afternoon, physically drained as the andrenalin left my body; uplifted spiritually but with nothing left to give. We did finally make it out for a dog walk this afternoon, and it was good to get the wind through my hair and my legs working again, but ‘wet dish rags’ have nothing on me this evening!
I’d be interested to know what other peoples experiences of sermon writing are? Are all preachers physical wrecks on a Sunday afternoon? Does it ever get any better?
I’ll post the final sermon tomorrow.