The way I prepare sermons is of an artistic nature. It can be frustrating and in the end fearful when you get further and further into Saturday and no form is coming to the art piece!
I often wish I was more scientific and structured. I imagine the preacher who takes three long sessions in his study and just brick by brick builds a sermon of deep exegesis and logic.
For a long time I used to think that I had to fit that model. It made my sermons dull and did my own head in!
Eventually I realised that I had an artistic bent that needed patience and the ability to get as close to edge of the cliff as I could. Like those fifties dares as depicted in James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause where they raced cars to the cliff to see who would get closest before jumping out. Some Saturday evenings I am close to the edge! Indeed a few Sunday mornings!
My artistic practice is a reading of the text early in the week. My job from that point is to journey with that text. It is seeking prayerfully where that text meets the content of Fitzroy on Sunday morning. Where in these texts is there a explosion of insight that will pastor, encourage, inspire or maybe even correct us as individuals and as a community.
So, the week is spent in the text. The commentaries are read and surmised. As I drive around or watch television, I am constantly turning it over, digging for something.
By Saturday I am hammering the dyke wall, bashing against it, seeking a little give. I have a lot of commentary down, a few quotes, maybe even a clue to where it is going but there is still no sermon worth preaching.
Eventually, but sometimes very late on a Saturday night or in the waking up moments of a Sunday morning, the wall gives and a gush of sermon insights, stories and structures pile through. I then try to capture them all in a little pool, type it up, print and preach.
Most Saturdays are spent in the zone. The reading is all done but the sermon might have no point or kick or structure. There might be a soccer match on TV and I am watching but hammering the wall. There have been times when a film my wife is watching on Saturday evening, while I am gazing at a laptop, gives the opening I need and suddenly the sermon is flowing through.
It is the artistic way. It is always scary. Most weeks I am not sure it will happen. It always does…. but what if this is the first week that it doesn’t! A while back I did a little thing for the Belfast Telegraph. It was 5 quick questions to the clergy. One of the questions was what would I ask God if I had just one question. My answer was, “why don’t you tell me what to preach earlier in the week!”