Aug26ThuAugust 26, 2021
Today I’m continuing reflections with a focus on one slice of ministry that is simultaneously the most and the least visible, the preaching and the preparation for services, particularly sermons. I’ve often said preparing messages is not like cutting the lawn. It is not always simply putting in the time needed, it often involves finding that right track, that meaningful way into a text and into our current world which creates the room to write a message. A preacher, though, always faces a deadline and can’t say, ‘I’ll finish it Monday.’
I’ve always enjoyed creatively working with sermons in series. For many years, I would attempt at least one series a church season that had to do with mission or big-picture series. Hence, there were titles like: It’s Growing Time, What Really Matters, Living Our Purpose, Mission Possible, The Passionate Church, Renew, the Builders series, Five Practices of Fruitful Living and Church, Why Bother? (a Yancey booklet), ‘Connect, Grow, Care’ and others of similar ilk. We did a whole series on the book “Surprise the World” after each household received a copy. We listened to various messages on stewardship, including the “Joy of Generosity” series with help from a stewardship team. We looked at series based on the Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed or most recently The Lord’s Prayer with the title “Upside Down Prayer for a Sideways World”, each those being informed by the Heidelberg Catechism.
There were series on growing personally: Get A Life, Renovations of the Heart, Refresh, Streams of Living Water, Relationship-Rescue, Extreme Makeover and The Secret of More (on the virtues in 1 Peter). We made a couple attempts at journeying through the whole Bible, one was called “The Story of Our Lives” and of course the other was more recent and focused using THE STORY Bible that included study groups. A conservative count of sermons specifically on prayer would easily number over 30.
We engaged in sets of series that were connected to the church calendar, Advent series with titles like, Surprising Gifts, Coming Soon, Expecting the Unexpected, and Ultimate God Moments. There were the longer Lenten series: the I Am series, the dismantling of idols series, the Seven Deadly Sins series, the Cross of Christ, and We Want to See Jesus. There have been post-Pentecost series, one focussed on the book of Acts took us right through summer.
I loved leading children’s sermons and messages over the years but thought it important to have members leadthese times with the children. Bringing the occasional object to help illustrate a children’s message point was such a joy, (like once pushing in a tricycle for a Palm Sunday message). Friendship sermons were sometimes similarly enjoyable and active with our once hiding one of our daughters in a large appliance box and surprising all the friends when she appeared with a ‘the best gift is a person.’
I appreciated so much the ways members helped out with visuals to help illustrate sermons, whether virtual (on screen) or real with artistic flair. There was the plain piece of pottery made to look like broken pottery because as 2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, we are all cracked pots. There was the over-sized vase and mason jars used for our year of the ‘jars of thanksgiving.’ For one summer series a group of young people regularly contributed a video that served as the introduction to each sermon. One church season Sunday School children published their drawings throughout Advent via the order of service or as the bulletin cover. Other visuals: a piece of poster board cut out as a puzzle piece to help think about about Colossians 1 (all things hang together in Christ), a question mark cut of Styrofoam and painted black for a Lenten series, a Monet displayed to help us think about how to read the book of Revelation and a sculpture representing the idols of our time.
I’ve also put together mini-series on particular Bible books like Exodus, 1 Kings, Daniel, Mark and whole letters like Philippians or Colossians piece by piece. We’ve looked at many individual texts, often fed by Gems or Cadet themes or deacons’ themes like Hunger Sunday or for young people returning from SERVE projects or other youth themes for when youth services were more in vogue. I recall one youth service in which I used a vigorous U2 song played through the sound system as the introduction to the sermon but wondered how the non-youth attendees would receive it.
I once heard a conference speaker say to a room full of evangelical pastors, ‘everyone in your congregation has at least one good sermon in them.’ That’s a long way from CRC church order but we did try to encourage testimonies and extended prayer requests. Some of those testimonies allowed congregational members to speak about “God moments” in their lives or share something of experiencing God in our ‘summer photographs’ contests or our 6-8 words challenge. One season we featured members who worked in the community, each speaking of their ‘Community Connections’ as followers of Jesus. There were also other more spontaneous or less arranged ways in which people gave testimony; some of the youth’s Profession of Faith and SERVE testimonies being among the best.
Like the sacraments (packaged communion elements or an infant baptism outside a window and videoed), the pandemic impacted this ministry. Preaching in my basement or in an empty church was so odd and challenging. It did however give me an excuse on one occasion to record one sermon introduction on the shores of Lake Erie!
So much more that I could write regarding the Word ministry but lest I turn this reflection into a sermon itself, I draw it to a close, grateful for the privilege of engaging in this ministry and for your participation in it through speaking or listening.
We remember, celebrate and treasure our ministry together.. .. ~ EGN