Oh hey, and we’re done! If you’ve been cowering somewhere in a corner, waiting for this meta- preaching blog series to end, hooray! Almost there!
5. It’s alive.
There is an ongoing debate over whether manuscripts are evil, or whether the pulpit confines the Spirit, and roaming down on the floor is the only way to go. Those are primarily cosmetic, I think.
The important thing to bear in mind is that any good sermon happens as a chemistry experiment between you, the Spirit, the moment and place in time where you are preaching, and the people who hear it. Remove or change one of those elements, and it won’t work.
So you have to go into sermon-prep paying attention to ALL those elements. Not just the ones that seem obvious.
You can’t get so caught up in the intricacies of the text that you forget that the people you’re talking to have to pay bills and go to school and work the next morning. And you can’t get so involved in the grind of daily life that you forget to listen to the text, and the whisper of God.
Your job, as preacher, is to let the elements interact. How does the text speak to people with jobs, to people who have retired? To people whose spouse has just died, or whose parent has just died? To people who have just had a baby or gotten married? To people who have just started at a new school and don’t know anyone, or whose biggest problem is learning fractions?
And how does the text speak to the whole gathered community, in this moment in time? How does this text sound different today, than it did three years ago?
At every point, while reading, while thinking, while writing, and while speaking, you need to leave room for the Spirit. On a practical level, this means that, regardless of whether you use a full manuscript, notes, outline or memorize it, you need to know your sermon well enough that you can be watching your congregation at least 80% of the time. It’s in this watching that the chemistry happens–you’ll know when you need to add something, change something, get louder or softer, in order to keep your audience with you. And it frees you up if you realize halfway through that you need to go in a slightly different direction than you’d planned.
In this way, good preaching is like good liturgy (perhaps good anything)—you should prepare so much in advance that everyone watching assumes that you aren’t trying at all.
6. All you need is love.
I really love preaching. For one thing, I don’t mind public speaking. Not everyone shares this affinity, which I understand. (A priest I knew once told me he still took blood pressure medication before he preached, to help with nerves. He’s a bishop now.)
But more importantly, preaching is an opportunity to talk about something that matters with people you care about each week. That comes from love.
You need to love the people you preach to, or at least, be able to access God’s love for them (if you don’t know them). And you need to love the message you’re telling them, or at least what it will do for your common life.
You can’t give a good sermon out of anger*, or disinterest, or annoyance, or disappointment, or anything else, really. Good sermons come out of being fired up with excitement about how much you like these people, and how much you want to tell them this ONE GREAT THING you’ve discovered. As a preacher, you’re like a kid who worked all day on a finger painting, and all you want to do is show your mom when she comes to pick you up.
That level of excitement.
And that comes only from love.
And once you find that, you’ll be an unstoppable, utterly awesome, preacher.
*I should clarify that: anger, in general, isn’t bad. Anger at injustice has led to some incredible sermons. But it’s always rooted back in profound love for the people you’re serving. Not at them. There’s a big difference.