Sunday, March 19, 2006

Kill the inner editor?

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.


Songbird said...

All you can do is be true to yourself, your call and your God. I'm sorry this person has such a hard time with hearing you!

LutheranChik said...

I think that approaching the writing/preaching process mindfully and prayerfully provides a useful brake on becoming too subjective about a topic. I know on occasions when I've been assigned preaching duty on Sundays when texts have especially appealed to me, I've found myself going at it "full-tilt boogie" -- only to wind up writing something completely different than my initial inclination, thanks to all the factors you mention. And I agree with your observation that, even so, God uses our unique voices as well. We have four laypeople in our parish who rotate preaching duty when our pastor is gone...our pastor has heard/read all of our sermons...and he's said that each of us brings a very different and needed perspective to the job.

hencity said...

stick with it Kathryn. Your process is admirable but I'd leave more to chance/the spirit than you do. But the Spirit won't protect you from such comments however because some people always need to criticise the preacher when they are hurting or annoyed about something. Us preachers are there with our arms spread wide - and look what happened to Jesus/Oscar Romero and loads of others when they adopted that stance.

Kathryn said...

Trouble with chance/Spirit is that I have this thing about beautiful prose!
So I can't risk just letting what She needs to come, come...(though I can manage it on the rare occasions when I'm allowed out of the pulpit for family worship)
Maybe I'll grow out of it one day ;-)

see-through faith said...


love is spelt r-i-s-k
and every time anyone of us preaches we put ourselves on the spot for Him.

We won't always be liked for what we preach - and I don't think that should be our aim - but I wonder if a requirement for being clergy is to have a thick skin. If so, I need to develop one, because I find criticism so hard to take. I wish I didn't.

You did well Kathryn. God speaks through the scriptures and you shared what He gave you this time. At the end of the day each person in the pew must discern for him/herself what is what. That's part of the spiritual development for each of us.

I also need to curb being critical (of myself and of others). Not all sermons will hit the mark, nor are they all meant for me either.

It's a hard lesson to learn, and my prayers are with you and also the parishioner. We're all in process. And it's hard.

1 i z said...

I appreciate I may be commenting against the flow...but isn't there a possibility that such feedback from the audience helps keep one 'honest'? I have no idea whether the party in question had a valid point in the case in question, but they seem to have at least raised the interesting question of the need to keep in check our very human ability to build God in our image rather than vice versa.

I value those in my life that will challenge me in such ways...but then it's very much down to the spirit and the style in which the challenge is made and I suspect perhaps that is something of an issue here ;-)

So on reflection...sod 'em K - you know you'll never please all the people all the time ;-)

Heck if you did, you'd be doing something seriously wrong!