By Joe LaGuardia
How is it that a preacher can come up with a sermon each week?
I can’t speak for other pastors, but I’m quite certain that each sermon idea that hits me–especially on a weekly basis–is a miracle in and of itself.
There is something to be said about miracles, and a few weeks ago I wrote how miracles happen when we are willing to take a closer look at things.
But have you considered that your pastor’s sermons are the stuff of miracles too?
Pastors go about preaching in different ways, be it expository, narrative, or yelling words of doom. No matter the style, however, something has to fill the 20 minutes it takes to persuade a congregation to connect with God, live into a new truth, and see life differently.
How easy would it be to stand at the pulpit and say, “This scripture lesson teaches us about this, and this is how it applies to our life”?
Sounds simple, but I imagine that a pastor would get fired if she did that every Sunday. There is an expectation that a preacher will deliver a message that changes us from the inside out, and we want an award-winning one every week.
I liken this to love. I can tell my wife, “I love you.” It’s true and it may be convincing, but I have to express my love in concrete ways: doing kind gestures, taking time to listen, showing compassion.
Its the difference between telling my wife I love her and showing her that I love her.
A sermon is supposed to show us God’s truth and how that truth might impose upon or break into our life experiences. This is why Jesus used parables to describe heavenly principles, such as the Kingdom of God.
If Jesus told me that the Kingdom of God is everywhere, I’d politely agree and move on. But when Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was like a seed that grew exponentially without any help from the farmer (Mark 4:26-29), than the metaphor opens up all kinds of meaning for my life.
Its the art of “showing” that takes all of the work, and the illustrations that come about are a result of the miracles of God evoking effective sermon preparation.
There have been a few occasions when I arrived to church on a Friday, my sermon-writing day, with nothing in mind. I may have the scripture lesson for Sunday. I may even have the point I want to make or the sermon title.
But the beginning and the ending? That’s a different story.
Once, I read Facebook post and had that “Ah-ha!” moment of clarity. Another time, my wife said something about her day that inspired what I call a “point of contact,” that moment in the faith when we can connect something universal and conceivable and relevant to the biblical text.
Other times, I’ve put my anxiety aside and went for a walk. Its a mind-clearing experience. Birds, flowers, traffic, and even the litter I pick up around the church can be unlikely sources of inspiration.
Sermon ideas can come from reading. I make it a habit to read the newspaper when it comes in the mail, at least one Christian magazine a month, and several books from different genres. The material not only provides content for sermons, it also teaches the sermon writer how to organize or write sermons differently.
Nor is it unusual for pastors to gather together with other pastors in monthly groups to discuss sermon ideas and themes. Several of us pastors in town do so and find the experience quite enriching.
When I was called into full-time pastoral ministry years ago, I had to face a certain truth that scared me: I need to write and preach a sermon every week. Without God’s intercession and those miracles that continue to surprise me in new ways, I wouldn’t have much to say come Sunday morning.