Thursday in Lent 3
We take a break from our regularly scheduled scripture reflection to bring you a commentary on preaching….
Things are different on preaching weeks, and I thought it might be fun and perhaps a little edifying to read about what it’s like on a week when you’re preaching. If this seems too narcissistic and shallow, I totally understand. Click on the link to the daily prayers and we’ll see you tomorrow!
When I’m preaching, I usually take a first glance at the readings for next Sunday on the Sunday evening before, or on Monday while I’m at home. I don’t usually do much with them, but just take a peek and hope that they plant a seed in my brain. On a good week, a theme or question or idea pops right up, and I start pondering it immediately. On other weeks, I read the lessons for Sunday and….nothing.
The worst part about a preaching week is that it’s always there in the back of your mind, rudely whispering in your ear over every conversation, every email, every tv show. “What does this all mean?” “What are you going to say to folks?” “Don’t you know Sunday is only a few days away?”
The best part about a preaching week is that it’s always there in the back of your mind, making connections between your life and the gospel. Every conversation, every Facebook post, every news event, every email, every tv show is relevant. Everything matters. A pastoral conversation teaches you exactly what Jeremiah was talking about. The problems a basketball team has playing together is exactly like the problem Paul is talking about in Corinthians. Everything is alive. Everything is connected.
Tuesday and Wednesday are the wild card days. On the good weeks, you find an hour here and there each day to read some commentary, to write some paragraphs, to put themes up on a white board (with different colored markers!). On the good weeks, you’re praying about what really is the good news that you need to deliver to the Body of Christ. On the good weeks, you’re convinced that you really don’t need to write anything down because the Good News is so obvious you might just stand there this Sunday and it’ll all come flowing out.
On the not-so-good weeks, you find yourself looking at the commentaries on your shelf and feeling guilty for not touching them. You find yourself praying for other things and forgetting to pray for your sermon. But still the conversation is going on in the back of your mind.
Thursdays are the worst. On Thursdays, you’re an idiot. All of your ideas are stupid, everything you’ve written is garbage, and you’re probably going to get a call from the senior warden (or the bishop) asking what could have possessed you to think you could be a priest. On Thursday, you’re lost in the tall grass.
Fridays are the day it comes pouring out, and the real trick is to discipline yourself to write it all down, to start making hard decisions about which direction you want to go. On Fridays, you’re wondering where all those half-formed thoughts of brilliance have gone, now that you’ve got to make fully-formed thoughts with clarity and faithfulness. Fridays are where the prayer gets real, where you let go of your ego-driven fantasies and move to a combination of humility and focus.
On the good Saturdays, the penultimate draft is printed and in your bag, and if you don’t look at it all day, it’ll be fine on Sunday morning. On the good Saturdays, you wait until everybody’s settling down for the night and you pull it out for one last polish, one last edit, to finally take out the fluff you were so committed to on Friday. On the not-so-good Saturdays, you get up early and try to get some more writing done before everybody starts their day, so that you can still be present to your loved ones. On the extra-not-so-good Saturdays, that doesn’t work either, and you are really glad your family will love you no matter what.
On Sundays, there’s only one thing that really matters. It’s remembering that you have been tasked to stand up in front of the Body of Christ and speak to them about the Good News of God in Christ, that you have been tasked to speak to them in the Name of God. My mentor told me that after 30 years of preaching, stepping into the pulpit still gave him butterflies, and he hoped it always would. After 7 years of preaching, I still know what he means.