Sunday after Sunday

Emilie Bouvier, "Fertile Soil." (Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, MN)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Most parish pastors are weekly preachers, and there is great joy in this regular privilege of proclaiming God’s word.

Like all routines, this Sunday after Sunday responsibility can become wearisome, and the sense of joy and privilege can start to fade away (“Oh, no, not the Transfiguration again!”). However there are ways in which the weekly preacher can be continually refreshed in the routine of preaching. Here are some suggestions for consideration in your own renewal.

Make your sermon preparation time your own spiritual discipline.

Begin your preparation by looking for the riches of the text for yourself. Which reading for the day speaks most to you? Where is the good news for you? What do you see in the readings that you’ve never seen before? However you go about preparing your sermon, taking time at the beginning of the process to hear God’s word for yourself and to pray with the texts will open your mind and heart as you attend to the work of preaching.  This practice will greatly aid your proclamation to your people.

Carry the Biblical text with you.

Whether you have the text memorized, on your PDA, mp3 player, cell phone, marked in the bible you carry with you, or kept on a separate piece of paper, having the Biblical text(s) on which you are preaching in front of you throughout the week will help you gather all the other things that help center the sermon. On the desk in my office, I always have a bible open to the gospel for the upcoming Sunday. Whether someone comes in to talk, a meeting is about to happen, or something has taken place in our city or in the world, those conversations and events become part of proclaiming the word of God for that Sunday. I sometimes think of the text on which I will preach as a funnel which gives shape to the life in community of that week. One person’s grief, another’s joy, a congregational crisis, or the excitement of a new program are all poured into the funnel of the text to come together to make the sermon.

Find your focus.

It’s easy to get into a rut when you preach week after week. Often it’s helpful to find one thing in your process that helps you focus the center of your sermon. If your congregation appreciates titles, finding just the right one can help keep you on track with the text. Picking the Hymn of the Day can have the same effect. It is my practice to pray at the beginning of a sermon. Crafting that prayer is an important part of clarifying the central theme of my sermon. There might be other ways to fulfill the same purpose–connecting the first and last paragraph, repeating a phrase, or using a particular portion of the text for the day.

There are other ways to help renew and refresh your weekly preaching routine. If your congregation doesn’t have one, start a weekly bible study of the upcoming readings. You’ll enjoy how the comments of your parishioners will inspire you! 

Another way of learning what your people value in your preaching is to ask several in the congregation to take sermon notes for a month or a season and then discuss their responses.

Ask other pastors what has been renewing for them. Take time to learn about good continuing education opportunities like the Festival of Homiletics, the Byberg Homiletic Workshop, or the seasonal preparation offerings through Kairos at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As I write this, we are in the Pentecost season of Series A with its fifteen Sundays from the book of Romans. On August 10, 2008 (Lectionary 19) we who preach will meet these words from Paul:

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? (Romans 10:14)

When we hear those words, may we each be inspired by God’s Spirit in the great privilege of proclaiming God’s good news Sunday after Sunday