That's the motto of the wonderful writing courses that DarlingDaughter attends at Kilve Court each spring. Ironically, when it's applied to her creative writing, the intention is to encourage her to write as she feels, without constantly worrying that content or style are not, somehow, "good enough"...but the words were floating around in the ether at St M's this morning, with a rather different intent.
You see, I had an interesting, if not particularly pleasant conversation with someone after Eucharist,- the gist of which was that I had, in my sermon this morning, been guilty of distorting Scripture to suit my own ends…
At the time this felt like an outrageous thing to say, something that hit me at the very heart of my integrity as a minister of God, and I struggled not to get really upset.(managed not to show it, which felt like a major achievement in itself!) I was all too aware that there was another agenda coming into play during the conversation (as it has done too often before), which had nothing whatsoever to do with my words from the pulpit, butall the same, it has made me think about the degree to which our preaching is inevitably shaped by the concerns that are foremost in our minds and hearts.
When I’m preparing a sermon, I read the text, I pray, I read commentaries, I read lectionary blogs, I pray, I read some more and pray again…I carry the text around with me for the best part of a week…I don’t, ever, consciously start by thinking “Ah hah…now, I can use this text to support my views on X or my plans for Y” or even “I’ll preach on this, because it’s all about….”
I really and truly do my utmost to hear what God would like me to find, what he wants me to say to those people at that time…that, of course, is why the morning’s comments hurt so much.
But despite this, of course, there’s no denying that I do make choices as a sermon develops. From the moment that I decide to preach on the Gospel rather than the Epistle or the Old Testament passage, I’m committing myself to a particular path…and it’s impossible not to exercise some sort of editorial process as I begin to write. I can’t totally banish myself, my personality, my concerns from my writing or from my preaching.
I don’t actually believe that God wants me to. If he called me, Kathryn, to minister in his church, then there must be some bits of Kathryn that he thinks are worth using.
That doesn’t give me the right to ride rough shod over the text when preparing a sermon, but I’m hugely aware of the dangerous responsibility inherent in all preaching, and believe you me, I don’t ever approach it lightly.