The little church we attend in Kanab, Utah, recently lost its pastor. She announced one Sunday that she was leaving and the next Sunday was her last. It seemed rather abrupt compared to the extended leave-taking of United Methodists. She didn’t even stay to say goodbye to the congregation after the service. Because it seemed so sudden to me, I talked to the Session President after the service and said that I was available to preach in September. She immediately signed me up for two Sundays. Today was the first of those two Sundays.
I was a little stressed, thinking about writing a sermon on top of working and writing my blog posts for the week. So I spent some time praying about it and praying over a scripture. Some people think it is easy to fill in the pulpit, but I try to write a sermon designed for a particular congregation on a particular Sunday. Each sermon is as new to me as it is to the congregation for which I prepare it.
When it came time to write the sermon, the words poured out. When I had to write a sermon every week, it sometimes felt like pulling teeth to get the words in an outline form. But this particular sermon was down on paper in less than two hours. And even though I had plenty of time, it didn’t need any revisions.
I preached this sermon this morning. The congregation was brave and let me lead the whole service. They are a small but faithful group and there were about 20 of them in worship today. Unfortunately we didn’t have a pianist, but they do have recordings of about 50 hymns. So Jim was our “pianist,” pressing buttons at the appropriate times. He did a good job, and it wasn’t his fault that we sang “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” at twice the normal tempo.
I felt my preaching went well. The Holy Spirit was definitely present. People in the congregation were laughing and crying in response. Several people were so emotional after the service that they couldn’t speak. They said it was just what they needed to hear as they decide whether to continue as a congregation. The President of the Session told me that they had a special Session meeting during the last hymn and decided to offer me the position of their pastor. She was joking (I think).
Tom, who is my biggest supporter and harshest critic, said the sermon was perfect. I thought it went really well. The only problem?
I have to do it again next week. When you have a great sermon it should be “one and done.” Preaching two Sundays gives me the opportunity to flop next Sunday. Now I have all this pressure for the sermon next week to be as good as the sermon this week.
Fortunately preaching isn’t all about me. I am the vessel that delivers the sermon. But the best sermons are always words given by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks through my words and touches the hearts of those who are listening, it will always be a good sermon. As I prepare for the second Sunday of preaching at the United Church of Kanab, I will continue to pray and listen.