Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ups and Downs (in sermon form)

So today was another preaching day - in class, "Creative Preaching" to be exact, which is like "pour on the pressure" to really knock one out of the park. Plus I'm trying to find a sermon to submit for the preaching awards here - a petty and silly desire to be noticed, but I still want to try. I'm trying not to put any stock in it. But I want to put forth a worthy effort. So that's in the back of my mind as I write each now.

Anyway, there is one annoying thing we do in the preaching classes: we give all the good feedback first and then the constructive (eh-hem) feedback at the end. So you leave class feeling sour about what you just did, no matter how many positive comments came your way first. Yucko. And my criticism was a particularly annoying one, because it was based on most of the class completely mishearing something I said (I was so thrown at the time that I didn't even have the presence of mind to figure out that's what had happened).

While I don’t think that their actual critique is justified (being based on a mishearing of my words), it is an important lesson that whatever we preach can always be twisted around to mean something we didn’t intend. I am not sure how we avoid that as preachers – except to never say anything controversial, but I don’t believe that is biblical! Still, it is good to be aware of this problem. I think it would be helped by having more history with the audience so that I knew how to speak to them and not be misunderstood. They don't know me well and I don't know them, and we all have our own issues! :)

Another thought is that preaching in a creative style opens our words up to more risks like this. If I had said the statement straightforwardly, it would have been understood; putting it in poetic language made it more fluid and open to misunderstanding. This is something to remain aware of. I don’t think it will stop me from preaching poetically, but I have to know in advance that miscommunication is more possible.

Anyway I know I need to let this go. But right now I'm hurt. I just hate being misunderstood. It's one thing if I say something sassy and piss people off knowingly. It's quite different to be accused of something you didn't intend. But that's what I learned about this summer, isn't it? That the intent of the Author is Dead. Damn. Stupid postmodern hermeneutics.

OK, I will now get to the good stuff, which is the sermon. This is quite possibly my favorite one I ever did. I loved writing it and even more loved performing it. It took tons of rehearsal to get it just right and I covered huge amounts of emotional terrain. I can't really even express it to you correctly in this format, but I love sharing my sermons so I'm going to put it up anyway. Plus, now you can play the fun game of trying to figure out what people misunderstood! Yay!

But in all seriousness, if you have a nice feeling or thought reading it, or it moves you in some way, I would really really covet that feedback. Yes, covet it, in the sad breaking-the-commandment way. Just because this one had my heart and soul in it. Not only that, but it made me cry nearly every time I read it - because the words in it were such a gift. I felt humbled that God gave me these things to say. And yeah, I guess I'm just saying I am proud of it. I'm usually more reticent about tooting my horn. But this time, God provided, and I was there to write it down and later speak it. Thanks be to God.

So here it is (now that I've built it up you're expecting Barbara Brown Taylor - yikes!). Hope it speaks to you like it has to me. But even if not, hey, it's spoken pretty awesomely to me. And that's a gift.

How Do You Preach with a Broken Heart?
A Sermon based upon Psalm 73 (click on "Psalter" and scroll down to 73. or don't. whatever.)

How do you preach with a broken heart?
When all you taste is salty tears
All you see is inky gloom
All you hear is a slamming door,
And a bolt sliding to.

Or maybe I am overstating the case...
(I can be a bit dramatic)
But we mustn’t pretend that we are somehow safe
That just because we are Proclaimers of the Word of God
We’ll have an easy go of it.

Preachers’ hearts break too.
Preachers’ parents die.
Preachers’ children get trapped in addiction.
Preachers’ spouses are diagnosed with cancer.
Preachers miscarry.

Sometimes it’s not personal.
Our vision for the church shatters to pieces.
Our ordination is blocked at every turn.
Our denomination splits.
And no matter how many times we preach the basics of the faith
Our congregants still don’t seem to get it.

(more energy)
And why, oh, why, are those preachers
with their false Jesus
pushing self-help feel-good nonsense
have they even read the gospels?
Why does everybody follow them?
Why are they on TV and we’re struggling to inspire a congregation of 15 eighty-year-olds?
Why do they have bestselling books and we barely have time to scribble down a sermon?

(rise to peak)
Lord I try and I try my very best to follow your will!
But there are all these…people
People around me, messing everything up!
How can they be so self-absorbed, so mean-spirited, so…stupid??
Where’s that wrath I hear about? Can we get some lightning bolts down here??

We don’t really want God to hurt anyone.
But we don’t get why God lets us get hurt.
Why God lets people – and pain – get in the way.
Stopping us short.
Robbing us blind.
Of whatever faith and hope
We might have had left.

But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped;
I had almost tripped and fallen.
Because I envied the proud
And saw the prosperity of the wicked:
For they suffer no pain and their bodies are sleek and sound.

In the misfortunes of others they have no share – they are not afflicted as others are!
They wear their pride like a necklace
And wrap their violence about them like a cloak.
Their iniquity comes from gross minds
And their hearts overflow with wicked thoughts.
They scoff and speak maliciously
Out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
And their evil speech runs through the world.

And so
The people turn to them
And find in them no fault.

And they say,
“How should God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

So then, these are the wicked;
Always at ease, they increase their wealth.

Why do we bother?
In a world so broken
Loneliness lurking in every corner
Emptiness filling every crevice
Despair dangling every creature
from puppet-strings
in an unending parody of real life.

In vain have I kept my heart clean!
In vain, washed my hands in innocence!
I have been afflicted all day long!
And punished every morning!!

(BEAT; collect self)
I can’t say these things.
Not out loud.
Not to you…not to those to whom I preach.
How could they bear it?
How could I let anyone know
That I am human too?
That I hurt and I doubt and I question and I have really really bad days.
That sometimes it all seems like a big cosmic joke
And we
You and me, friends,
We are the biggest fools of all.

The truth is:
We are human first
And artists afterwards.[1]

Had I gone on speaking this way
I should have betrayed the generation of your children.

When I tried to understand these things,
It was too hard for me.

(a ray of light)
Until I entered the sanctuary of God…
Until I entered the sanctuary of God…
Until I entered the sanctuary of God

Until I entered
The Real.

There is a real world.
It is here.
It is at hand.
And from it, we can see forever.

In the sanctuary of God
The world turns rightside-up.
When we go to worship
That is Real.

God reaches out and offers Godself for our taking.
We hear the Word in the scriptures, in proclamation.
We enact the Word, in prayer, forgiveness, reconciliation, passing peace.
We see the Word, we touch it, we feast upon it, at the Table of Jesus.

(rise to peak)
I entered the sanctuary of God
And joined the heavenly banquet
And I held God’s love
– God’s deep, abiding, undying, unfathomable, unbreakable love –
I held it in the palm of my hand.
And I ate. And I
was Filled.

I discerned the end of the wicked –
Surely, you set them in slippery places!
You cast them down in ruin!
Oh, how suddenly do they come to destruction!
Come to an end, and perish from terror!
Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord,
When you arise, you will make their image vanish.

When my mind became embittered,
I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence.

(more energy – duh!)
Oh, I’ve been so off base.
I am not alone in my frustration! I am not alone in my pain!
Who faced more ignorance than you, Lord, when you sojourned on the earth?
What could be more disheartening than thrusting
the Divine dance of Love
into the midst of insulated, boorish humanity?

I was stupid and had no understanding.
Help me understand, Lord.

(slowly, realizing)
I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
and having you I desire nothing upon earth.
Though my flesh and my heart should waste away,
God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

I only need God’s approval.
My deepest desire is for God.
It is not for ordination
It is not for a full church
It is not for health
It is not for wealth
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And having you I desire nothing upon earth.

(preach to them; rise to peak)
When we are suffering
And our path is dark
And the Light does not seem able to overcome it
When those around us hate us and mock us and thwart us
And the earth fights back against our abuse
And our relationships rip to shreds
In our confusion
In our frustration
In our anguish
We cry out,
“Abba! Let this cup pass from me!”

(pause, with quiet intensity) We are never closer to our Savior than in that moment.

Jesus faced the violence of this damaged planet
With no weapon but his weakness
With no bargain but his body
With no scheme but his sacrifice
With no directive but his divine definition
as Love incarnate.

What else could we expect to happen
To the ultimate self-Giver
Laid bare before the bitter disjointed shambles
of this world?


In this world, even as preachers,
- especially, perhaps -
We can’t help but be hurt
We can’t escape it

Maybe there is a reason
And maybe there is not
Maybe we are proven strong and trustworthy
In our trials and tribulations
Or maybe it’s just a hurricane
Stirred up by the wing
of a butterfly.

In the end, all we can do is choose
Between frustration
And formation.
Between shaking our fist at the heavens
And inviting the potter to mold us anew.

It is good for me to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge.
And I will never stop speaking
of the works of my Lord.

(rise to peak)
If we dive into Christ’s passion
We will form a seamless union
Of our soul’s deep longing for wholeness
With our God’s deep longing for closeness
And the world’s wounds will be soothed
By the balm of a Word of truth
Uttered from a silent cross and an empty tomb.

In that holy kinship
May we find ourselves inspired
To do as our Savior did
To absorb the violence
And grieve with the suffering
To be ignored with the powerless
And be stifled with the meek
For in this way, we will preach
Not only with our lips
But in our lives.

And that, my friends,
is how you preach
out of your broken heart.

[1] Paraphrase of a quote from Evelyn Underhill.


Sharon said...

I found your beautiful sermon as I was surfing through RevGals. You really spoke to me as a preacher and a pastor. Thank you! I sort of wonder if it is even possible to preach from a heart that's never been broken. Many blessings!

Scott said...

Wow. Wow. And Wow.

That was earth-shaking and inspiring. I've been a preacher for years and you encapsulate in one short sermon what I so often feel.
Thank you for this and don't let anyone tell you that these words are lacking.