Another Thursday comes around, and I find myself once again with my trusty and worn Bible in front of me. It’s time to begin the journey of preparing a sermon for Sunday.
I’ve developed a sort of routine or maybe it’s a ritual of how I come about this sacred and humbling exercise.
Today I will read the pertinent Scripture. The text. The lesson. The Good News. I will write it out in long hand in my trusty moleskin notebook. And I’ll pray.
I’ll think about who will be hearing the message. The faithful who sit in the same seat in the same pew Sunday after Sunday. The ones who might wander in purely by chance that particular Sabbath. I will pray for them all. “Lord, help me to make sense. Help me to be relevant and grounded. Bless each person who will come to worship; let it be YOU they hear, no me. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for not letting me throw up during the sermon.”
And then my favorite prayer, the one I utter every day dozens and dozens of times a day. “Use me, Lord.”
Tomorrow I will re-read the passage. Pray a little more. And then dive in head-first in research. Do my seminary professors proud – I will exegete. Word studies, historical criticisms, and of course, selected commentaries. And then set it all aside so I can sleep on it.
Saturday I will re-re-read the passage. Read it slowly. Savor the words. And then begin to write. And write and write. No, there is no outline. No three-point structure. I just write.
I’ll finagle with the manuscript several more times, reading it over and over until I ultimately think it’s at a place where I can read it to my number one critic – my husband.
Most of the time he’ll just nod his head and say “slow down”. Other times he’ll point out a section I need to elaborate more. But always he gives me a smile and assures me God will be with me.
When I climb into the pulpit with manuscript in hand, I must confess I am no longer really present. Something extraordinary comes over me and there is a mixture of my not really being there with a sense of aliveness I’ve never felt in any other situation. I find myself using my manuscript sparingly and elaborating extemporaneously. God, indeed, has been faithful and once again shown up.
I love to preach. I love it because I get a front seat to witness the remarkable grace of God, the anointing of the Holy Spirit on all who desire to hear the Word and my most fervent prayer answered. “Use me, Lord.” And indeed I am.