When I took my first vacation from preaching, in the summer of 2003, an older and wiser pastor warned me that as much as I might appreciate the break, I should be prepared to find this particular horse a difficult one to mount again.
She was right.
I seem to lose my rhythm when I don’t preach. This past Sunday my student did a wonderful job tussling with the Job 38 text, and because I had been sick, I was particularly grateful for the timing. But I find I am worrying about this week’s sermon more than usual, and for no good reason, since Wednesday is usually pretty early in my process.
I’m out of step with myself.
It helps me to realize how important a part of my spiritual life preaching has become over the past four years. Next week I will celebrate the fourth anniversary of my arrival at Small Church, and the beginning of my preaching life.
I read the lectionary with two groups. On Tuesday mornings I eat breakfast with my favorite preachers, and come home with a notebook full of jottings about the gospel.
"Bartimaeus," I noted, " was caught in his circumstances–we are not."
Somewhere in these notes might be the phrase that becomes a sermon title, or the hinge of a developing thought.
I treasure the half-dozen laypeople who come and sit in my study on Wednesday evenings to read the texts and talk about their lives viewed through the lens of scripture. If I use my best sermon illustration on Wednesday night, they never look bored when they hear it again on Sunday morning, God bless them! And each one says how much more the service means when they have already thought and talked about the passages.
I had lived with the lectionary before, participating for many years in
a women’s lectionary group that grew out of a mother’s group at Large
Church. We all began with an air of skepticism. How would this sampling
of the Bible affect us? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to read a
whole book through? Some of us thought that, but we were using a
lectionary-based curriculum in our Church School (The Whole People of
God), and it included materials for adult study, and that decided us.
Soon we realized that the themes of each week’s readings connected with
us in unexpected ways. The texts held parallels to our lives. We
learned to know the Bible, each other and ourselves more deeply. It fed
our teaching, our worship, our living.
When I imagine the rest of my life, I cannot imagine it without the lectionary, without the discipline of reading and studying and writing my way around the Bible. Four years ago I did not know that the preaching would matter to me so much, that I would find myself called to take that living and writing and share it with others, week after month after year.
Even if it is a little harder to get started *this* week…