By the time I offer a sermon next Saturday for a wedding, my preaching hiatus will have reached nearly five weeks. For some of my colleagues serving in large congregations, this is no big deal--a typical homiletical lifestyle. For others, preaching becomes a weekly rhythm, rarely changed. I fall somewhere in between, but the Lent/Holy Week cycle challenges even the most adept preachers. About 9 weeks ago, I instinctively knew of my weariness of expression, lining up colleagues to share their gifts as exegetes and homileticians in order that I rest. I know that I rested: I forgot the process of sermon preparation. My mind finally stilled. This "stilling" took several days. As my wife, daughter and I walked with our friend in the Surrey County village of Guildford near the beginning of our respite, I took photographs of a church whose structure was altered because it inconvenienced a king. I had a sermon illustration in mind. My wife and friend told me to stop it. We were on holiday.
Stillness takes a long time. Physical stillness is difficult enough. Mental stillness ranks higher in difficulty. Only after two weeks of not preaching could my homiletical mind be stilled. This makes me wonder about North American Old Line Protestant worship. How can I receive the gifts of God if I know in my heart it takes me hours, sometimes many days, to become still to the point of reception? How can reception of God's grace occur in many neat packages that cannot last more than 60 minutes? I sometimes identify myself as a closet Roman Catholic, only because I know that in at least some expressions of the Mass, silence takes on as much importance as vocal prayer, music, even Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Worship for me often becomes like hearing the adults who speak like a muffled brass instrument in a Charlie Brown television cartoon, "Wha wha wha whaaaaa." I know I sound like that cartoon adult as a worship leader. I seek a sacrament. Silence for me is sacramental. After the stillness I can be ready to receive, and possibly share a word.
Thursday evening I awakened from my rest from homiletical expression--gripped by the words of the Gospel of John, Jesus said "you did not choose me, but I chose you." I read this lesson at the South Dakota State Penitentiary to the St. Dysmas Prison Congregation. A powerful word--though I have heard that word many times, after the silence, it was like I heard it for the first time. With a moved spirit, I learned the pilot light of soul was not extinguished, I was ready to receive and share a word.
Surely my next sermon will sound like the creakiness of muscles and joints after a long night's sleep, but the dawning of a new day offers a new opportunity to live in the grace of God and give in the grace of God.