Monday, May 12, 2008

Preaching at Reconciler

You can find the sermon I preached for Pentecost here. Preaching is a continually fascinating enterprise for me. I suppose that is a good thing since its part of the job of being a pastor. Much of the fascination is how I am beginning to map out a development of my approach and delivery of sermons.

When I begin to preach regularly as Reconciler was being started as a church, I found myself needing to submit to the text. This meant leaving aside the opinions I came to the Scriptures for a particular Sunday and letting the particular encounter with the Scriptures tell me what the text said and what might need to be said from that encounter to the small group that gathered. I found that my initial struggles with the text very rarely made it into the sermon itself, and that what I needed to learn and what seemed to need to be preached were often very different things.

Then our congregation had its first growth spurt and I found that I had succeeded in letting go of my opinions about the text and was experiencing living in and out the Scriptures, but now needed to convey not so much what I found in the scriptures but how living by the Scriptures might be achieved. In part this was a response from those who were now coming feeling that my sermons were highly academic, interesting and helpful to a certain degree but left them struggling with application. In sermon preparation I found that while I might set aside my previous opinions about a certain text or the theology of the text, that I had come to falling into a new opinion in the encounter (obviously), but now rarely would I preach that new conclusion, the struggle became once I thought I know what the text says in this sort of fresh way and allow my opinions to be reshaped what is it that I am being lead to say to the particular group of people gathered. In this period rarely was the conclusion I came to from my own encounter with Scriptures, what my sermon was going to be ultimately about. By the end of this period I found myself abandoning a perfectly good sermon text at the last minute sometimes just as I entered the pulpit.

This lead into a period of abandoning the manuscript working only from notes. In this period I would use the Scripture text(s) as the springboard for my sermon often using all three texts, looking for how the texts speak together, and then how that interaction would speak to the congregation. In this period I would often enter the pulpit with a few notes but no a clear sense of an organizing principle, and organize my notes on the fly.

Most recently beginning with a Sermon I preached near the end of January of this year. I returned to creating manuscripts. Preparing and writing these sermons have been very difficult, and I have often finished the manuscripts just hours before church service. I have begun to consistently hear catholic and orthodox themes in the texts, especially regarding the Church. Part of the struggle is that I am seeing that there are things I can't speak as a Protestant, or that many in the congregation do not have the means to receive what I could say. But mostly it is a personal struggle of feeling that I am at the limits of the Protestant perspective and of no longer living within those boundaries. I am struggling the possibility that I have exhausted the catholic and orthodox resources within the Protestant framework and finding that the that which goes beyond the catholic and orthodox within Protestantism to unusable and unproductive for the Spiritual life and the Spiritual depth I seek and would want to lead people into.

The above all came to a head yesterday when preaching the Pentecost Sermon. I could not say all that I might have wanted to, Partially because I new I couldn't speak of the Church and its continuity in the life of the Spirit in the way I was seeing based on my sermon preparation as a Protestant and because If I said all I might have said I could not lead the members of Reconciler where all I might have said could have lead them. I settled for laying a foundation both for myself and then. In doing so I did sense and experience that the Holy Spirit was at work in our midst and in that sermon in ways I had not sensed before. Even at the end of the service I could just about see tongues of flame resting on each member of the congregation. My Spiritual director has a small carving of a monk scratching his head that he has facing the oil lamp he lights for each session. I told him today that I am kind of like that monk right now, something is happening I kind of know what it is but I am still wondering what this all means and how it will all work itself out.