Suffice it to say, it was a labor of love. It took hours to prepare. Hours and hours and hours.
I've been doing this now, off and on, for about a year. The folks at St. Paul's, Georgetown, DE have been my inspiration and I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Oh, I've tried it, from time to time, over the years. But, I've really been attempting serious application of this theory on Sunday and major holidays.
Here's some of the things I've learned:
First, this is not as easy as it looks. Seriously.
And, let me tell you from first hand experience, it's not for sissies.
You have to let go of any notion of "perfection", which is really an illusion anyway, even with a prepared text in front of you.
Once that's established, you have to be comfortable enough with imperfection to invite people in to find the humor in the absurdity of life. Because, I mean, what you are attempting to do is smack-dab in the midst of the Realm of The Absurd.
It begins with the fact that, as Episcopalians and Anglicans, we are people of Word and Sacrament.
Let me "rinse and repeat": That's Word (as in Scripture) AND Sacrament (as in Eucharist).
It's a balance.
The task of the preacher is to break open the Word so that the people of God may be nourished in the same way that the Sacrament of Eucharist feeds the people of God to go forth and do the work of The Word - the mission of the Church - the Good News of The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At least, that's the way I was taught. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
I was also taught that one ought to strive to make The Breaking Open of The Word no longer than The Breaking Open of The Bread. So, 10-15 minutes tops. Which is - generally (ahem) - no problem, if one is reading from a manuscript and reading the Eucharistic Prayer from the BCP.
However, if one is "preaching from a prepared heart", the almost irresistible seduction in hearing the sound of one's own voice and connecting visually with the eyes and faces of others is to . . . well, to put it kindly . . . wander.
Or, the luxury of time to be actually paid to reflect on these things.
It is a temptation which should be resisted with every ounce of once's being - whether or not one is preaching from a manuscript in the pulpit or from a prepared heart in the center aisle.
I mean, Jesus did it all the time.
Telling a story - especially one that has actually happened to you and has been, in some way, transformative - is, in my admittedly not-so-humble opinion and admittedly neophyte position, the heart of a sermon which is preached from a prepared heart.
There is something additionally transformative for the preacher in telling the story and watching the transformation - or, at least, reaction / response - on some of the faces of some of the members of the congregation.
In that moment, the presence of the Spirit is palpable. By that I mean that one can actually, really, honestly and seriously feel the presence of The Spirit - Ruach, Shekinah - in the room.
The feeling can range from feeling as prickly as electricity in the air or as comforting as an old, warm, tattered sweater.
In that particular moment - for me, anyway - I absolutely do not remember what I've said. It's scary and wonderful and mystical - to be in control of so many things about preaching and yet completely surrendered to and trusting in The Spirit.
And then, there's the whole point of the sermon.
|Fail #1: Give good advice instead of Good News|
This is the "one, two, three" of your one sermon point which you make without actually saying "one, two, three". And, saying it with conviction and passion - or, at least, some sense of urgency.
Because, you know, if you don't think what you've just said is important, I mean, why bother?
So, I just want to say that I'm no where near as "polished" as I want to be about this.
I am still practicing, practicing, practicing and I am beginning to feel some improvement. Sort of like the point a musician reaches when she has moved from scales and a halting rendition of "Heart and Soul" to her first recital when she hasn't actually "nailed it" but she hasn't embarrassed herself, either.
Or a sculptor or painter or musician who has had a public viewing of his work and, perhaps, received an inquiry about the purchase of his piece. Not a sale, actually, perhaps. The inquiry is enough.
I've been practicing the art and science of priesthood for almost 29 years.
What I've discovered is that I still have so much to learn.
I'm not blowing smoke here.
This is my truth.
I'm also thankful for those of you who have been my sharpest critics. You have also taught me things I never would have learned any other way.
As one Hospice patient said to me recently, "Honey, it's not how you come to church, it's how you leave it that matters."
If the preacher and presider isn't transformed, how can we expect anyone else to have that experience? And, if not, why bother coming to church in the first place?
Suffice it to say, - preached from a manuscript from the pulpit or preached without a note from the center aisle - a sermon is a labor of love.
At least, that's what it is for me.
Your actual mileage may vary.
That's not about "fast food". That's about substance.
No matter from the pulpit or center aisle.
But always, always, always, from a prepared heart.
Because we are people of Word and Sacrament.
And, the Eucharist is the sacrifice of thanksgiving and the sermon is a labor of Love.