Back to the future?
When I was in full-time parish ministry, I had a regular routine of preaching preparation. I preached most Sundays, and my week was structured around my discipline of sermon-writing. It began on Tuesday morning, when I would read the scripture selections for the coming Sunday and jot a few notes. On Wednesday afternoon, I would return to the notes, and do whatever exegetical work seemed to be called for — consulting commentaries and other references, in recent years more on the Web than through books. (Thank you, textweek.com!) Sometime on Thursday, I would try to sketch some general ideas for the actual sermon. On Friday afternoon, I would close the door and begin writing. I usually had a working copy done by 4:30 PM. I would do a final set-up of my stuff for Sunday, and go home to enjoy my Saturday day off with my spouse. On Sunday, I would re-read the text before services, correcting any obvious egregious errors, and then I was ready.
That was the essential structure of my week, something that became not just a way of organizing my vocational life, but the heart and soul of my spiritual life. I believe the essential discipline of preaching is “engaging the scriptures,” to use Thomas G. Long’s felicitous phrase. If the preacher has been immersed in the text, and has been seriously engaged in exploring its depths, it can not help but show in the pulpit.
Because I no longer have that scriptural framework for my week, I have been forced to re-discipline my spiritual life. That’s another story for another time — it’s actually still in formation.
The change in the rhythm of life has changed how I prepare for preaching. When I was a pastoral intern at St. John’s Cathedral, Saskatoon in 1986, my supervisor gave me preaching dates long in advance. I had the luxury of extended preparation time, and each of the sermons I gave there was pretty polished — perhaps too much so! I became aware that it was a little too easy to edit out spontaneity and feeling.
When I entered into full-time parish ministry the next year, the shock of weekly preaching forced me to develop the disciplined approach I already described. No-one told me how hard that would be at first… and no-one told me how much I would come to rely on it.
I’m preaching again, three times in the next two and a half months. I began working on the first of the three this morning, a date more than two weeks away. The long horizon reminded me of my internship, and the careful prep. that I did then. I pray that I will not be over-prepared for these dates, but will be free to speak spontaneously from the structure that my written text will give me. We shall see.
My internship was 27 years ago. I am certainly not the same person today as the rather nervous student who first stood in that pulpit in Saskatoon, Pentecost, 1986. And I’m not the same as I was on June 23 last year, when I last preached at St. Matthew’s in Brandon.
Things come in circles. I have the luxury of preparation time, and I also have the advantage of years of experience. All I pray is that I will be given the grace to be an effective minister of the word for the people of Holy Trinity.