Sermon Writing; Matthew 28:16-20; Delivered June 11, 2017

     Boy this girl is in need of some time off—which I know I just had some time off, but life is hectic with weddings and with all the stuff going on at the church.  Not much time to work on a sermon this week, And couldn’t come up with anything creative.  So,  I thought I would do a “days in the life” kind of thing, just to give you an idea about what it takes to write a sermon.   

Sunday night.   Pull out calendar.  Note that next week(which is this week) is Trinity Sunday.  Color white.  Read over the lectionary passages. Old Testament passage is from Genesis--how God first created the heavens and the earth.  It’s long—too long to read in its entirety during worship.  Also, can’t see how it relates to the trinity.   What were the lectionary composers thinking? Read the lectionary Psalms passage.  This too, has to do with creation. “What are humans that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them, yet you have made them a little lower than the gods…..Beautiful poetry and it ties in so well with the Genesis passage, but what does the creation theme have to do with the trinity?

On to the Gospel passage.  It’s from Matthew as you know.   Now this is a good one.  There are so many aspects to it.  There’s the whole evangelism thing, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Definitely a good topic, but haven’t I preached on evangelism in the not too distant past?  Like last week?  Not a particularly beloved topic, either.  But of course, there’s  the trinity theme going on here. “Baptizing them in the name of the father, son and holy spirit.” Makes sense that this is a lectionary passage for this Sunday.   The idea of trinity is so difficult to understand, though. And hard to see how the trinity intersects with peoples’ lives. Trinity is more of a head thing.  I want to engage the heart, too.

Have not exhausted all possibilities in Matthew.Love the last part of the scripture: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”  To the very end Jesus is thinking of his disciples.  Leaving them with an oh, so comforting thought.  I will be with you ALWAYS.  Yes, that definitely has possibilities!

Not done with the lectionary though.  One more lectionary reading to go.  This one is from the epistles— Paul’s letters—Second Corinthians.

Ok.  Here’s the thing about the epistles—they are almost always loaded with “shoulds” and “oughts.” I don’t like shoulds and oughts.  Also, I fault Paul for belaboring his points.  How often do I come away from Paul feeling preached to?  And I don’t want congregation members to feel preached to.  Want my sermons to be porous enough that my listeners can read into them—wander around inside them, come to their own conclusions. 

So even before I turn to second Corinthians, I’m biased.  Paul does not let me down!  Paul wags his saintly finger at us.. Examine yourselves.  Don’t do anything wrong.”. Got to admit, though-- 2nd Corinthians is a good Trinitarian passage, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” is the way the thing ends. But there’s just not enough in that to base a sermon on, or so it seems to me. 

No, it’s back to Matthew, “I will be with you always even until the end of the age.” Sweet. 

Monday morning.   Search my bookcase for Matthew commentaries. Also consider articles, particularly this week’s article in Christian Century.  Read, read, and read some more. Go to a few on-line commentary sites, too.  Nothing strikes my fancy. Need an entry to the sermon. A joke?  A story?  SOMETHING.  Nothing immediately comes to mind. Three hours later I’ve got three pages of notes, that’s all. It’s time to take a break.  Eat lunch, then look through e-mails.

It’s 2 p.m.  My 2 p.m. appointment is with a couple who will be marrying in August.  This is our first meeting. Glory be!  They have actually THOUGHT some about how God and the church are going to fit into their married lives.   The bride-to-be is a Presbyterian.  I know her family. She tells me that she belongs to a Presbyterian Church in Chicago.  It’s is full of questioners. It’s her kind of church.  She feels good about her faith.  Ah, but the groom-to-be.  His mother is a Jehovah’s Witness and his father is Catholic. He says he’s confused.  No doubt. When he was little he used to accompany his mother going door to door handing out pamphlets and “Witnessing.”  I am thinking, “Gee, here is someone who actually did what Jesus commands us to do:  Go and make disciples! Would love to get his take on the lectionary passage! Maybe I could weave his story into Sunday’s sermon.  But he is here to talk about his wedding—not my sermon. Do the pastor thing--listen. Fear have missed an opportunity for a frank discussion on evangelism from a former evangelist.   

Tuesday.  Read over the scripture passage from Matthew, this time in the King James Version: “And lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” Get stuck on the word “lo.”  L-O.  What does THAT mean, for heaven’s sake?  Decide to read the passage in French.  Now this is interesting.  In French, the scripture reads, “Et voici:  je suis moi-meme avec vous chaque jour, jusqu’a la fin du monde.” Translating that word for word, it reads, “And here, I am myself with you each day, to the end of the world.”  I like the chaque jour part in the French, each day, instead of the English version, “always..”  Always is many days clumped together.  But each day.  Jesus with me when I rise, and when I go about my chores, when I sit at my table working on a sermon and when I go to sleep. Yes, “each day” is definitely preferable to “always.”  Maybe I could put that into a sermon?

 The writing begins.  Start off with a true story—not a very good one though, and it’s a third hand story.  Can’t be sure of the details.  The page begins to fill up.  One page of sermon by Tuesday, that’s not bad.  Want to get the whole thing done by Thursday, so I can stew on Friday, rewrite parts on Saturday if need be.  Work until noon. By now the page is full. Before I go to lunch with a colleague, reread the thing. Not too good.  This is turning out to be one stupid sermon, one horrible homily!    

After lunch, it’s on to the lectionary group meeting.  Each of us is preaching on a different scripture passage.  We struggle with 2nd Corinthians some, with the Psalms some, with Genesis some. When it’s my turn, ask the group what LO means in the King James Version. No one has a clue.  David has a joke though, about lo.  It’s a very bad joke.  Eyes roll. Toward the end of our time together someone mentions a family friend in need. Someone else mentions all the terrorist attacks that have been rocking our world lately.  We speak in general about some of the sadness experienced by our church families.  We hold hands and pray together, asking God to relieve the world’s pain.

After lectionary group, I go home and pet the dog.  Look at the mail.  Then it’s off to another meeting.  This one at Westminster Presbyterian Church—Peace and Justice United is having an information gathering Session.  I eat dinner there, and drop off materials regarding gun violence prevention. Then I make an appearance at the Charlottesville United Methodist Church.  The Virginia Interfaith Center is hoping to start a C’ville chapter.  Leave there at 8pm.

 Still fretting over my “stupid sermon, horrible homily.” Go to Barnes and Noble.  Perhaps to get inspired by some of the books there.  Settle on a short book on pastoral care—find a chair and skim that until after 10 p.m. Decide not to buy book. Drive home.  Get ready for bed. Step on the scale.  The scale has a solar battery.  Instead of my weight, the little glass panel on the scale tells me that the scale’s battery power is low.  The message reads Lo, L-O.  And so I start my day with Lo, L-O and I end my day with Lo, L-O, and I still don’t know what that darn word means.  God, You’re laughing now, right?  Lo, I am going to bed.

Wednesday morning. Go to Scottsville.  Meet with some of you.  Meet with some of Scottsville clergy. Then back home at my computer, first thing I do is look up the word LO on the online- dictionary.  L-o:  “used to call attention or to express wonder or surprise.”  What Jesus says IS a wonder and a surprise. “Guys, even though you won’t see me anymore, I’ll still be with you.” He may be talking about the holy spirit, but remember something Buechner said in relation to death and the thin veil between the living and the dead.  Go to my bookshelves.  It’s in Buechner’s book Sacred Journey.  The page is dog eared.  Cried the first time I read that passage.   Buechner says:   Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us - and through them we come to understand ourselves- in new ways too."

And then I think of what I read at Barnes and Nobles’ last evening.  Even wrote it down.  Find my notebook. “Therapists increasingly focus on how (their clients) can maintain meaningful connections with the dead rather than primarily how to detach them and return them to an emotional status quo.  Whatever the nature of the bond, loved ones never leave us after death, they simply move their residence from the outer world to the inner and accompany us for the rest of our lives.”  (fDeath Benefits, by Safer).

 

Isn’t that the truth?  Think of the times my parents have been with me even in death.  How my journalist father sometimes leans over my shoulder as I work at the computer and whispers, “You need a transition word there.” Or my mother.  Saw her smiling face in the delivery room when my first daughter was born, even though by then she had been dead six years.  People may die, but relationships never do. The dead live on, inside us.

Jesus is no longer with the disciples.  He sends the spirit.  Maybe that is another way of saying that he has been internalized by the disciples.  And in their retelling of their stories about Jesus, Jesus was internalized by others, too.  Jesus may have meant more than that when he said, “I will be with you,” but he meant at least that. I am in your dreams and memories. I will continue to influence you and the whole world. Lo, I will be with you chaque jour, each day.

And then, think about the Genesis lectionary passage.  Maybe that’s what the lectionary writers are getting at. Once you have internalized Jesus, go back to the beginning of the Bible and read it all again.  Since Jesus, Genesis takes on a whole new meaning.

Yes, I want to put the part about internalizing Jesus, and the part about a whole new meaning for Genesis into my sermon.  Ah, the stupid sermon, horrible homily.

Pull it up on the computer screen.  Time for drastic measures.  Hit delete. How about pulling a James Joyce?  Doing a stream of consciousness thing? No, a journal!  Now THAT has promise. Amen