November 3, 2011

Preaching is a challenge and a gift.  It forces me to reflect on Scripture every week, to ask “what is God saying to me in this passage?”  “What is God saying to my people?”  To try to continually find new ways to tell over and over again the basic story of God’s love.  I’ve heard that each of us have but a few stories that are ours to tell.  Given this, how can any one preacher speak week after week to the same people without them being bored to tears by repetition?  And yet the stories need to be told over and over, every Sunday, in countless churches throughout the world by countless ministers.  I am but one small cog in this noble enterprise.  Preach I must with the words that are mine to give.  Still it remains a challenge to keep it fresh, keep it alive every week.
For years as a lay minister in the Roman Catholic Church, I reflected on the Catholic lectionary, preaching inconsistently whenever it was allowed. Now as a chaplain in a retirement community I have been preaching using the Revised Common Lectionary for over eleven years.  This means I have preached on the same readings over three times each to the same people.  Somehow I have always managed to come up with some words, some more inspiring than others.  I like the common lectionary, like the thought that on any given Sunday I am preaching on the same readings as hundreds of thousands of other ministers, and yet what I preach will be uniquely different as I am different and my congregation is different.  Still it is a challenge.
Over the past few years I thought about, prayed about, doing something different, maybe doing a series as other ministers I know have done.  I had yet to do any in-depths study of the psalms, so the idea of focusing on them intrigued me as a way to further my own education and hopefully give new life to my preaching.
I went into a week-long seminar on preaching last August intent on getting insights on what others had done and maybe several months of sermon material.  While this didn’t happen quite the way I had planned – I didn’t come away with outlines and sermons in place – I came away with what I needed to make a beginning and that was enough.  And so, in August I made my beginning, starting with Psalm 1 with the intent of preaching my way through all 150 psalms.  In some ways an enormous undertaking, and yet, I have to write a sermon each week regardless, with the exception of the week we have a minister come for communion, so why not.  I figure it will take me over four years, doing three psalms a month, but week by week it will be done.
I am now up to Psalm 10.  It is giving me a new structure and new life for my sermons.  I still use the readings from the common lectionary as part of my reflection, picking those that fit the most with the psalm for that week.  In this way I get the best of both worlds:  a sermon series that incorporates the lectionary readings. 
Sermons are meant to be preached, they lose so much in the written form.  I usually follow an outline that leaves me freedom to add or delete based on the reactions of the congregation and the movement of the Spirit.  Yet I share them here in hope that my reflections will provide fodder for your own reflections.  Enjoy!

copyright November 2011

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