Sunday morning came quickly last week, with sermon muscles somewhat atrophied and a minimal understanding of context, I had a hard time centering on my approach beyond my prayers for wisdom and guidance. One benefit I have in the pulpit supply realm of preaching is that I can recycle stories. I don't recycle sermons per se; during multiple service Sundays, I can change the sermon without even planning on doing so.
I hold on to some tried and true stories--some stories operate as their own marinade because of their tenderizing and flavorful features, like lemon or soy. I pulled out a story Sunday for approximately the 5th or 6th time. Maisie DeVore's story of persistently working to give her rural community a place for children and community members to play, relax and rest during hot prairie days with a swimming pool is not only inspiring on many levels, but it also carries several baptismal images. Baptism brings families, the community of faith, and the body of Christ together in powerful ways. The story appears to resonate with worshippers no matter in what context I tell it--the story serves as a good ingredient in the homiletic marinade.
The homiletic marinade recipe changes again this week--I am preaching in a congregation that doesn't use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), a three-year cycle of Bible readings. The RCL has been a helpful preaching resource for me over the years, mostly because it is a check (though not fool proof) on making my agenda the foundation of the sermon. I am forced to consider the text and what it says. Using the RCL weekly, I have 4 texts from which to choose, and I can sometimes avoid what God may have to say on a particular Sunday. I'm not against preaching off the RCL--I've tied myself to it also as a survival mechanism. As an interim pastor I often place my energy into working with a congregation's transition than expanding my preaching horizons beyond the tools I use, such as projection screens and images, and moving away from manuscript preaching.
A few years ago, I was persuaded by Bill Easum and Thomas Bandy that the RCL was an insider cycle of Bible readings, assuming that hearers were at least acquainted with the Biblical narrative. I tend to work with congregations that are already inwardly focused because of trauma or decline, and therefore I used that as an excuse to not create Bible readings and sermons closely related to the community and its relationship to the word of God. Easum and Bandy advocate for preachers to create an "Uncommon Lectionary" that is context and community specific. Honestly, I haven't had the gumption or the courage to move in this direction. Now my hand is nearly forced. I think it looks weak for me to go back to the RCL in this non-RCL congregation. I've preached off the RCL maybe 10 times or less in the past 6 or 7 years--that number may be generous. I'm almost at a loss for how to marinade this sermon, especially when I have an artificial deadline--the congregation has a bulleitn to produce and a sermon title to promote. I haven't worked with this type of artificial deadline since my internship. I resented my supervisor--it seemed to serve his need to control things than to do anything specific for my development. How do I marinade this sermon beyond some of my core practices?
I have some themes I have been pondering, many come from reading James Wellman's latest sociology of religion book and some key themes in response:
1. What do you/we make of Mainline Protestants' uneasyness with the Great Commisssion?
2. When you look at the Pacific Northwest and its relationship to the Church, what is your reaction? Do you tend to:
b) see opportunities
c) want to give up
d) don't care one way or another
e) all of the above
f) none of the above
3. What does our relationship with the land mean in our relationship with God and our neighbor?
I've considered theme #2 more of something that drives me close to graduate work, teaching opportunities and leadership development. Theme #1 has more preaching potential, but it also assumes a great deal about a community of which I know little. I still have at least 18 hours to arrive at my theme--and I will probably use a lot of those hours. I'll take input where ever I can receive it.