Another Sermon Come and Gone

For my own future reference, I preached on Luke 17:5-10

I’m beginning to think of my sermons lately as sand mandalas. Without a manuscript, when I’m improvising and going off of notes on little cards or sentence fragments on a page, and I’m not recording what I preach (who likes being recorded?), its an odd feeling. I know I’ve preached a sermon, but I have nothing to show for it really. I know the sermon existed, I know it occurred, but its gone.

I think the high-point of this one was getting a bunch of Presbyterians to shout “help us Jesus!” That was fun. I also got some laughs when I wanted them, and positive feedback from a few people. You never know – its just a sermon after all. They’ll get another one next week that’ll be just as good, have just as much to it – and the week after, and so on. I tend to think of sermons as having an aggregate effect – at best they build upon each other incrementally, mixing within the preachers and the congregation. If they have a big impact, I have no problem calling that a miracle.

My supervisor is still wanting me to be off of notes entirely. I’ll probably give it a shot before the end of the internship. What I really need is about five more hours available to work on it so I can practice coming up with things. I only really got to go through this one, to myself softly, a couple of times – and that was at 4am this morning.

I’m finding that, this Sunday at least, what I came up with for the sermon as I stood there was better than what I had written down. Not better as in more eloquent – I’m sure a transcript of what I said would read like the halting speech of a moron. (Having someone transcribe an extemporaneous talk you give is a recipe for humility) Rather, I just felt like it was better. Like it connected solidly with at least a few people who were listening. They nodded, or smiled to themselves and looked down, the way you do when something hits home and really seems true to you. And I’d say, whatever makes that connection possible is a good thing.

2 thoughts on “Another Sermon Come and Gone

  1. While I was on study leave this summer, I vowed that I would get back into the discipline of manuscript preaching, after having preached without notes for the last 8 or 9 years. I don’t like it. It feels artificial, no matter how much I practice. I might as well just hand out copies and sit down for 10 or 15 minutes while everyone reads it.This week I broke my vow, and it felt good. It’s back to preaching without notes for me. However, my brief brush with manuscripts has made me more conscious of where I was getting sloppy, and I needed that redirection.There is something to be said for looking people in the eye while you preach, and that’s hard to do when you’re tied to a manuscript. Preaching from notes or without notes is more interactive, and more humbling: it honors the authority of the Holy Spirit to lay hold of the proclamation and direct it wherever She will. Yah, it’s messy, but so is icing a cake. Just like it’s fun to lick your fingers clean of icing when you’re done, it’s fun to lick up the delicious words and ideas that would not have made an appearance any other way.My homiletics professor, Fred Holper, told us many years ago, “After you’ve preached your sermon, don’t dwell on it. Don’t keep preaching it in your head, as if you can go back and correct mistakes. Once it’s preached, it’s no longer yours; it now belongs to the congregation to do with as they will. Besides, you need to be getting ready for the next sermon. Take a page from Alcoholics Anononymous: Let go and let God.”I’ve found that the “Let go and let God” approach works equally well while you’re preaching. Yes, you do all your research, dialogue with colleagues and parishioners, get some sense of what you believe God is calling you to say, maybe even write out notes or a manuscript. But in the end, when the moment comes and you’re standing among the congregation, if God leads you in a different direction, go with God, not your notes.If we’re honest without ourselves, though, we must admit that preaching without notes is a little like skydiving without a parachute, or driving without breaks. It takes a lot of practice, and sometimes someone (like a supervisor, a mentor, a parishioner, or a spouse) needs to scrap you off the concrete afterwards.Not that I’m speaking from experience, mind you….

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  2. i rather find that my sermons dictate whether or not they need a mnauscript or not. only once did i preach totally without notes because i had to for a class. i even make notes of what to possibly include in my otherwise free-form prayers. most of the time i have an outline of notes with some paragraphs. some sermons are too delicate, though. ironically one i did on the holy spirit was totally manuscripted whichw as a good thing since i got accused of promoting satanism for it (another story).i always feel rather empty after preaching. it’s done. i could have done better. thanks for listening. wheee. maybe i’ve spent too much time critiquing other’s sermons.and if it helps you to know, karl never actually made me preach a sermon without any notes. then again you’re there for longer. have fun!

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