On September 14th I preached at Reconciler. The New Testament texts were on non-judgement and forgiveness. On Thursday evenings I usually am at a local cafe where I am available if someone wants to come by for a pastoral visit and as a time to work on my sermons. I have mentioned that I have been getting to know a Loyala University Theology student who frequents the same cafe. We have started discussing the ideas I have for my sermons and the lectionary texts. He though has also begun attending reconciler. I have to admit that it is a little odd (not bad but it did feel kind of strange) having someone in my congregation who I had just three days before discussed the sermon I was about to preach. I think this felt more vulnerable since I was trying out a different approach to preaching.
As my regular readers know I have been more or less preaching from notes of late, and occasionally still writing up a manuscript. I have been noticing though that even when I write an outline with notes that about half way through the sermon I am no longer following what is written on the paper, and then find myself trying to find my place in my notes again to finish up the sermon. This experience led me to wonder if there was a better way to prepare for my sermons. I have long felt that more and more I have been creating my sermons as I preached them. To some degree this has always been my experience in the pulpit. There have always been times when being a bi-vocational pastor has meant coming to the pulpit without everything hammered out. Even when I wrote a manuscript I essentially edited the manuscript as I preached. So what I came to as I prepared this sermon was that I would stop trying to create the sermon before the moment of preaching and let the "writing" of the sermon be part of the performance of preaching it. So, what I ended up doing was organized notes about my sermon into an outline that I would then follow. The analogy in my mind is to notes one has take for in research for academic papers that one then organizes before sitting down to write the paper. (You can find those notes posted here.)
Preaching this way was both a liberating and afterwards slightly nerve racking experience. Liberating because I felt the most engaged with the subject mater of the sermon and with the congregation. Nerve racking because after preaching I did not have a clear sense of what exactly I had said. And there I was trying something new with this doctoral theology student sitting right up front, paying very close attention to my words. So, I don't think I will have a manuscript of a sermon any longer (at least for quite awhile) and I will have notes and an outline but not worked out to present what I will say but to give me the raw materials for the sermon I will preach as I preach it. This seems to me to truly accept that preaching is an oral performance and not the oral performance of a written artifact.