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On Fridays I Write Sermons

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Ephesians 4:1-7

(My sermon this morning is different. It is more poem than sermon because sometimes the world feels too hard to prose. Sometimes my heart just needs poetry.)

I have a plan, a schedule, a method to the madness of preaching.

On Tuesdays I read the scripture.

I open myself to the story.

I search for metaphor, for meaning,

for something that speaks to my heart

because if it speaks to mine maybe it will speak to yours…

for our hearts are connected, corrected, convicted

by our commonalities.

And then I wait.

On Wednesdays I reread the scripture.

I remind myself of the plot and purpose,

and the arc of the story connects me to the arc of the universe

and the arc of my own soul bending, bending.

And then I wait.

On Thursdays I study.

I consult the experts, the scholars, those who know more than I do

for I often feel woefully inadequate to do this hard thing.

I read other preachers who, like me, find meaning in the madness of exegetics

and homiletics and heretical headaches.

And then I wait.

On Fridays I write.

All the waiting has been preparing for the spiritual practice

of writing sermons,

and that is when I pray that all this has been simmering into a holy stew,

rather than a holy mess.

I do this every week because every week those Sundays come, ready or not,

and I’d rather be ready than not.

 

I have a plan, a schedule, a method to the madness of preaching.

And it usually works.

I use the lectionary, so the text was chosen decades ago,

or I preach with a theme and chose my scripture weeks ago.

But decades ago they didn’t know where the world would be,

and weeks ago I didn’t know where my heart would be,

and days ago I thought I would preach on correcting our theological mistakes.

It was a mistake.

 

I have a plan, and on Fridays I write.

But the first hours of this Friday were spent at Evie Strom’s bedside,

moments after she passed away.

And this Friday my mom’s port for her chemo failed,

possibly delaying her treatment and my father’s surgery.

And this Friday I learned of a friend eating one meal a day

because that’s all he can afford.

And this Friday the cold rain dripped from the rhododendron outside my office window,

its leaves like arms folded tight against its body

as if arms alone could block the cold.

And this Friday I kept reminding myself that I can’t

stand up here and cry for my allotted 15 minutes and call it a sermon.

And I’m supposed to preach out of my scars, not my wounds,

supposed to share my past hurts but not present ones,

my past hurts that have been resolved

rather than my present ones that revolve around me.

You see, although I know you care for me,

you cannot take care of me.

Pastors who preach their pain reverse the roles and commit pastoral malpractice.

I want to practice what I preach and preach what I practice

but on Fridays I write sermons and this was not a good Friday.

Or maybe it felt too much like “Good Friday” with no Easter in sight.

 

And then I stopped to realize that I wasn’t preaching my pain;

I was preaching through pain—mine and yours and ours,

for there is a lot of pain in us right now.

As I write sermons I close my eyes and I see this sacred sanctuary, this holy space,

and the holy unholy people who gather here.

I look through my mind’s eye and I see so many people who are struggling.

I look through my heart’s eye and I feel so many people who are struggling.

Those whose bodies are slowing down, going down

the slippery slope of age on unsteady feet and fragile bones.

Those with unsteady heat in fragile homes,

where relationships are fractured and you wonder if it’s worse

to be alone together or alone alone.

Those whose parents are failing and falling prey to the future we fear.

Those whose children are failing and falling prey to blindness

of what their future could be.

I force myself to stop this litany because I will only make us more depressed,

but ignoring the pain does not heal us

and denying reality does not change us.

I considered doing something outrageous—

to out the rage that names us

to out the fear that blames us

to out the pain that claims us.

I considered doing something outrageous—

to make you turn and tell your neighbor where it hurts and why.

But then I closed my eyes and saw this sacred space

and saw you cross your arms and say “We’re Mainers!”

which I obviously still am not because I still pronounce the hard “r.”

It’s hard, this armor we wear, that keeps us from being seen.

 

My son and I played a game this week—Would You Rather.

You are given two usually unfortunate scenarios,

and you have to choose which unfortune you would rather pursue.

I had to choose between always wearing armor or scuba gear, and I won the point

because my dragon-loving son knows armor keeps you safe,

but his people-loving mom knows armor keeps you distant,

and I would choose a second skin every time.

Except it’s Friday, and I write sermons on Fridays,

and my skin could use some protection for the reflection of pain.

 

And then I remembered something I read months ago about Scotland,

and an author who claimed that before the year 900,

the written sources from that time and place

“were almost entirely written, copied, and preserved by people

who had learned to read and write by memorizing the psalms. . . .

[He said all of their writings] reflected the fact that they were recorded or preserved

by people with the psalms embedded in their psyches.

The histories read differently than those written elsewhere. . . .

The angle they take, the turns of phrase they use, the worldview they espouse,

can be traced back to the fact that they memorized the psalms.”[1]

 

And that’s when I remembered my favorite scripture from my youth: Psalm 62.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from the Lord.

Truly God is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God; who is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in God at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to God, for God is our refuge.

 

It was highlighted in my Bible, its yellow drawing my eyes every time I searched.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God.

While you are waiting. While you are searching.

When you are feeling your pain and the pain of others.

When it is Friday and you need a message of hope.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God.

 

There were others, too, that formed me.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

and

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil.

and

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings as eagles.

(Which isn’t a psalm but sings like one.)

 

These verses formed me, shaped me, and form the shape of the support around me

and suddenly I’m thinking we should never have stopped

making our children memorize scripture.

 

Of course it’s not only the Word

but also the words and actions of God’s people as I grew up that formed me.

I was formed by the old man who put butterscotch candies in his suit coat pocket

every Sunday morning because he knew I loved them.

I was formed by those who applauded my first solo—I Have Decided to Follow Jesus—

and helped me discover my voice.

I was formed by the woman who had no children of her own

so had time and space to love a teenager who felt unlovable.

I was formed by community—

by people who gathered together to worship God but also to love one another,

to celebrate and commiserate.

And that is what I know, I hope, I pray that we do.

When the pain is great, we gather around.

When the sorrow is heavy, we lift and lighten.

When the worry is draining, we replenish and renew.

And when it feels like Friday, we write.

We write grace on one another’s hearts.

We write love on one another’s hands.

We write peace on one another’s feet.

 

My Friday began in a living room with a lifeless body and grieving children.

My Friday ended in a living room with members of this living body

who told stories of love and laughter that were pure balm to my weary soul.

That was Friday. That was sermon-writing day. That was story-telling day.

That was pain-and-joy day, like every day.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God.

Yes, my friends, find rest in God

and in one another

and in sharing

and in choosing a second skin over armor.

Every time.

As our hymn of response, please join me in singing # 368 Blest Be the Tie That Binds

[1] Rev. Teri Peterson, Rooted in the Word,

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