One might think that after nearly four years of graduate theological education I would be at ease with writing a sermon, that I would be able to easily come up with something both touching and enlightening without much trouble at all, and one might think that as I learn more, the process of writing a sermon would get easier and easier. On the contrary, the exact opposite seems to have happened to me. In the past year, it has seemed like each sermon is harder to write than the last, each one reaches deeper into my soul for its material, each one takes on more of a life of its own, demanding commitments from me that I’m not necessarily able to make, demanding thinking and writing that will expose me and turn myself inside-out. And it’s in no way ethical of me to stand up behind the pulpit and present all the little inside bits and tough spots in my own life, so I must carefully sort out what to say. And that’s not even to mention the level of expectation on the side of the congregation!
Be they reasonable or not, I have conjured up lavish notions of the high expectations the people sitting in the congregation must have of me. It is both delightful and torturous to deliver a sermon in the congregation one has grown up in. What could I possibly have to say to the wise and weathered folks that have hugely contributed to the person I am today?
The scripture this morning was the parable of the Prodigal Son - although I'd probably say Prodigal Sons now, since I spent a great deal of time talking about the older son, the bitter one who stayed behind and didn't want to join in his brother's welcome-home feast.
I am astonished by how much I revealed about myself this morning without actually revealing the gory details, and I am equally astonished by the fact that people actually enjoyed the torturous and tenuous route I led them along today. I provided a framework of grace, and then poked and provoked and prodded everyone, leading them through how they may and may not be like each of the characters in the story. It was a journey that people seemed to enjoy, even though they did say they felt challenged and prodded.
I think that the pain I went through to put that sermon into the world is perhaps the most honest way to do it. Maybe it doesn't have to be that painful, but shouldn't the gospel, especially the kingdom parables, really hit us in uncomfortable and challenging ways?
And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
If the kingdom is like yeast, maybe God is the woman and I am the dough, being kneaded and worked until I can rise.
ps - I'm going to be blogging on my own as well now at http://erosophy.blogspot.com/ I will keep posting here once a week, but will post during the rest of the week at 'erosophy'. If you want to know what on earth 'erosophy' is, take a look...