It's Saturday night, and I am calm. Linda can attest to the countless Saturday nights when my stomach was churning, my insides jumping while I was doing my best to not withdraw into my shell. For many people, Saturday nights are a prime time to go out on the town, drinking and dancing, taking in dinner and a movie, having a good time. Not for me. Saturday night meant Sunday morning was just around the corner, and that meant sermon time!
It has been many years since I was up late on a Saturday night finishing up a sermon I didn't have time to complete earlier because I was holding down another job during the week, or was just not organized and disciplined enough to get it done right. Nonetheless, even though the sermon was done on Thursday or Friday, I couldn't get it off my mind, and for a very good reason.
A sermon is more than a lecture or a talk. The word itself comes from the Latin sermo, which means "to talk." But for the preacher, it's not an opportunity for him or her to talk, but for God to talk. If it is just me talking, anyone can take it or leave it. But if it's God talking, we've suddenly entered into some deep waters! The word sermo, or 'talk' also conjures up images of conversation rather than lecture or harangue, which is where too many sermons end up. The word leaves a bad taste in our mouths because it has been misused so often. If we hear, "I don't need a sermon from you!" we know we've crossed a line from conversation to condemnation.
Talking is what friends do when they're together. It is how we share our lives, our joys and sorrows, our fun and foibles. And that is the word we use when God sits down with us and says, "let's talk." And the amazing thing about our conversations with God is that he always gives us the last word. St. John tells us that "in the beginning was the Word." God always initiates our conversations, and always gives us the opportunity to have the last word. Hopefully, that word is another one that comes from the Latin: Credo, "I believe."
And it is all of this that made my Saturday nights so stressful over the years. It is a weighty responsibility to handle the Word of God, to do it with integrity, with intensity, without watering it down with my own words. I always tried to be aware of what my people were experiencing, and always asking the question, "What is God's word at this time, to these people?" If I missed that target, my sermon became just so many words. But if I discerned it rightly, it became a sermon, the Word of God for the people of God.
So tonight, Saturday night, I sit calmly, giving thanks for the great privilege I had for so many years. And I pray for pastor Joe, and for other pastors who bear this enormous weight of glory, that they will handle this Word with reverence, passion, and integrity, for the sake of the people God has placed in their care.