Preaching is such a strange thing...such an odd art.
Last weekend I felt nearly dead. Had been without a voice for most of the week.
When it's time for worship, though, it's time for worship. So I gathered up my notes (the manuscript is left in the office and I place a small card with some handwritten notes in my Bible), and headed across the street to preach. I wasn't sure I would get through all four weekend services.
But I did.
And, strangely enough, more than a few people told me it was the best sermon they have heard me preach in the last 12 1/2 years. One of the best parts of the message turned out to be a story I told about my youngest coming home from New York City on a Friday afternoon to ski with me. Being right outside the lake cottage when I was wondering where he was. It was a story I had not even thought of including in the sermon...didn't have it written down. A last- minute thing.
Just goes to show.
As I worked on the message for this weekend, I found myself feeling the pressure to match or top whatever God did in our worship last weekend. That kind of feeling is not a good feeling, let me tell you.
I think preaching is like prayer: it's the way a lifetime of it shapes you. Shapes others. Preaching is not a series of "talks" disconnected or isolated from one another.
That is what people miss when they are in worship only now and then. We have occasional attenders. They're sort of like someone who shows up at a restaurant every Thursday when the special is meatloaf and then they complain because of the lack of variety on the menu. They miss the All-U-Can-Eat Fish on Friday and the Pasta Night on Tuesday. They aren't there. And then they complain because the only special is meatloaf.
Sermons to a congregation are a conversation over the long haul. One message building on the other. Continuing a dialogue.
I don't know what this weekend is going to be like. Long ago I gave up predicting how a message would work...well or not. There is an unpredictable, Holy Spirit part of all this. Sometimes the preacher has worked hard, the pieces seem to be in place for a powerful moment, and things are flat. Other weekends you come exhausted, with a voice that has been reduced to a whisper, not sure if you'll make it...and God shows up in a convincing, powerful, soulful way. You never know.
Sermons are a dialogue...a continuing conversation as the congregation, the preacher and God travel together.
They are also a gift the preacher makes to Jesus. Like the rather crudely made clay bowls made by children in a kindergarten class, the sermon is my weekly gift to the Savior who loves me and died for me on the cross...who lives and reigns. "See what I have made for you this week, Lord" I say. Holding out what I have worked to make...