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On Preaching, Part 2

Recall, gentle reader, that I said this would be a three part series? (First part is here.)

Herein is part 2. If this interests you not at all, feel free to come back once this is over and done with in a few days.

3. Scars are good, hemorrhaging is not.
This sort of falls under the ‘don’t lie’ category, but needs expansion.

You–like everyone else sitting in the pews–have struggled in your life. Things have not always gone well for you, and you’ve made mistakes, and known pain, and struggle, and loss and uncertainty. It is from that place of vulnerability that your preaching should emerge. The minute you try to assert a certainty you don’t actually feel, it will become transparently obvious. One good way to think about preaching is as one traveller, a little further on the road than the others, turning back to give a scouting report. But you haven’t gotten there either. Be honest about what you don’t know, what is unclear.

That being said, there’s a difference between being vulnerable and bleeding all over people. Please don’t bleed on people. (What would the Altar Guild say?!)

Never bring up anything personal in a sermon that you haven’t worked through previously. Sermons aren’t about just you–they’re about the whole community. So when you bring up something that you’ve struggled with, make sure you’ve got some closure there. You don’t want to make the congregation feel like they need to therapize you in the middle of the service.
Ultimately, this is a fine line.
But this is also why God has given us friends, therapists and spiritual directors.

4. You are not a Baptist.

This is sad, but true.
Baptists are taught to preach ENTIRELY differently than Episcopalians. The service is different, the expectations from the congregation are different, everything is different.

So: though we may envy the ability of the Baptist preacher to preach for 30, 45 minutes, or even an hour, at a stretch, this is not your calling.
Your calling is to say one thing (ONE THING), to say it well, and then to sit yourself down. Not three points, not (God forbid) five points, and not a discursive exegesis on the Greek translation of that one word which is only found in 3 other places in the New Testament, yet once also in the Odyssey.
Sometimes it is very tempting. Sometimes there is a lot to say about the text. This should not surprise us–it is Holy Scripture. But in 99% of cases, you are going to see these people again. They are not going anywhere. You will get another shot at them.
And in 100% of cases, you need to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit to continue whatever work God has begun in them, and not attempt an entire Christian Formation course within your single sermon.
Pick. One. Thing.

Then, sit down.

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

7 responses »

  1. Loving this series and especially this post. I’d add, “If you can’t say ONE THING well, don’t get up at all; add another hymn. Not a dolorous one.”

  2. Additionally, and maybe this is in part 3 – while you have selected ONE THING to preach about you should have at least THREE IDEAS tied to that point. Not just ONE IDEA. Ahem.

    • I think you’re right. A sermon should lead you from Point A to Point B. You should end up somewhere different than wherever you started, but you should confine yourself to one trip–and not 1 trip, with a layover in Atlanta, while changing planes in Dallas/Fort Worth.

  3. I love the scars, not blood image. I’m going to remember that!

  4. Charles Lindley

    A-men way to go I love the idea of one item and make it good

  5. Pingback: Lepers, then and now | Red Shoes, Funny Shirt

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