Last Sunday I preached about the Broadway musical “The Sound of Music.” In last Thursday’s Liberating Word, before writing the sermon, I invited people to offer any insights they might have about that musical. Many of you did, and for that I was grateful and a bit bemused. It says a lot about who my readers are that the response was so much greater for Julie Andrews than for Jeremiah, Job, or Joshua! LOL!
I read through all of the thoughtful responses a couple of times before I began to craft the sermon. I realized later that no one of them shaped the direction that it ultimately took. Like most weeks, sermons are children whose DNA ends up taking familiar but unpredictable forms. No one response ended up forming the sermon, but they all contributed. You do all the work, gather all the information and insights, filter it all through what is going on in the world and in your congregation, and then seek to give birth to something through which God might be able to speak to a gathered community.
As I write my sermons, I never include material “for” someone. That would be manipulative and an abuse of power and responsibility. There are times, however, when a passage of scripture or an illustration will say something, and someone whose need I know will come to mind. I will whisper a prayer for them, hoping they will be present to hear a word of hope or comfort from God.
I’ve noted over the years that they rarely are. I’m not sure if it is simply that people attend church so rarely, or if we are prone to miss those times when God is trying to offer succor or counsel, or if I’ve just missed the point of what the Spirit is trying to say through that particular part of a sermon. There have been times when, after the sermon is over, people have said something like, “I sure wish [insert name] had been here this morning. She could have used that sermon given what she has had to suffer lately.” What is much more frequent, though, is that I write or say something and pray that it helps bring healing to someone and, in the end, discover that it did … to someone I had no idea was hurting.
So, we read things like scripture or Liberating Word, or listen to a sermon, and they don’t seem to be especially powerful or profound, but they come together somehow to give us what is needed to offer help or healing to someone we didn’t even know was hurting. Then we know it is not us but the Spirit at work through us.
Rev. Michael Piazza