Saturday, September 15, 2012

Follow Your Heart, and What Is, Is

Well, today is the day before my sermon!  So I'll write one last post for my series on preaching----though I may also write about my sermon tomorrow, after I come home from church.  In this post, I'll draw from The Waltons episode entitled "The Sermon", in which John-Boy has to give a sermon at his church in the pastor's absence.  I have two thoughts.

1.  In the Waltons episode, John-Boy checks out a bunch of books to help him prepare for his sermon, and his Grandma gives him advice (based on the preachers she has heard over the years) in hope that John-Boy will be a powerful preacher on Sunday.  John-Boy feels a little overwhelmed, for he wants to deliver a learned sermon, but he doesn't have any preaching experience, plus there are a few in the congregation who don't have a whole lot of faith in him.  As John-Boy pores over the books, his father John checks on him to see how he is doing, and John gives John-Boy one of those helpful Walton father-son chats.  John-Boy complains to his father that the books are telling him to do all sorts of contradictory things, and he doesn't know whom to believe.  John then tells his son that, at some point, John-Boy will have to put away the books, and even put his grandmother's advice to the side, so he can listen to what his own heart is telling him and write the sermon that he wants to write.  John then reminds John-Boy that John-Boy is a good writer, and the words usually come to him.

Something that I have highlighted in my series on preaching is that there are all sorts of ideas about what constitutes effective preaching.  Some say that you should tell stories, while others say that sermons should have meaty intellectual content.  Some advocate pounding the pulpit, whereas others promote a gentler approach.  And the list goes on.  My opinion is that all sorts of styles can be effective.  I've heard powerful sermons in which the preacher shares wisdom that he or she gained from personal experience, but I have heard other sermons that were good but did not share any personal anecdotes, or even stories, for that matter.  And the reverse is true----I've heard bad sermons that had anecdotes, and bad sermons that lacked a personal touch.

In terms of the sermon that I will be delivering this Sunday, I do not share any personal anecdotes, but I go through the story of Job, then I draw points of application from it.  I think that the negative to this is that my sermon lacks a personal touch, since it's largely exegesis.  For Layperson Sunday, in which a layperson like me preaches the sermon, people in my church probably want a personal touch----they want me to bring who I am as a person into my sermon, as I share who I am.  The last time that a layperson delivered the sermon was during Gifts of Women Sunday, and the lady giving that message talked about her own experiences as a single-parent, as she brought in the biblical story of Hagar (see here).  

But my sermon will be different.  It's not because I, like John-Boy, meditated in solitude and made a decision about the best kind of sermon that I could preach.  Rather, what happened was that I sat in front of the computer to type my sermon out, and what came out was what came out.  I felt that I should tell the story of Job, and it took me a lot of time to do so, such that I did not have the time to cut to a personal anecdote----plus doing so would disrupt the flow of my message.  Is my sermon the best?  No, but it is what it is.  And, in a sense, it does communicate who I am----it tells the congregation that I interpret biblical texts, and that I am interested in themes that are in the Book of Job. 

I guess that, if you want an anecdote, my telling of the story of Job will be that anecdote!  The Pastor Emeritus' sermons often tell a biblical story and draw lessons from it, and I'll be imitating him in this.  The congregation loves the Pastor Emeritus----some of them even visited other churches where he was preaching, just to hear him!   I think that one reason his sermons have appeal is that he tells the stories of the Bible, and people love stories.

2.  John-Boy fears that his sermon won't be as thoughtful as what the pastor usually delivers, and John tells his son that the pastor has been preaching for a long time and thus has experience and knowledge when it comes to preaching, and also that John-Boy won't learn all that there is to know about preaching in a week.  I think that these are important insights.  My message this coming Sunday probably won't be the best sermon ever delivered in the history of homiletics.  Maybe I won't ever be invited to preach at my church again!  (John-Boy said that he was never asked to preach again after his sermon.)  But my sermon will be what it will be!

I may share with you how my sermon goes, since I write about my experiences at church each week.  Or I may comment on a hymn I sang, as I sometimes do in my church write-ups.  I'm somewhat like Grandpa Walton: one reason that I like going to church is the singing!

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