A great sermon should have some poetry, passion and power, no doubt. Rhetoric has always been a way humans excited and entertained each other, telling stories that invoke emotions.
The heart of any good sermon, though, is insight. I want to see the routine choices we make everyday in a new way, having their connections and implications revealed. I want to have the attention and time I spend rewarded with a way to make deeper connections in the world.
I have always been more attracted to “teachy preachers,” those who speak for celebrating connection and how we have to open and change to become more righteous than to “preachy preachers” who speak for fear & separation, explaining how we have to disconnect from an evil world.
Victoria Osteen, Joel’s wife, recently gave a sermon explaining that God just wants to see us happy, so making ourselves happy makes God happy. Somehow, “God is all about your happiness” wasn’t the theology I found, even if prosperity pastors know that message can fill a mega-church.
I know that this blog is full of dammed sermons. I take experiences that I have or that others share with me and share the lessons, the connections that I see in them.
Usually, I end up “blinding” the original incident, rendering it more anonymous, so I take the emotional power away from it. I probably wouldn’t do that if I was speaking the story, knowing that real anecdotes give more power, but I don’t want the story to take away from the lesson, and I know that when reduced to text, stories can easily get twisted.
My goal hasn’t been to tell people what they are doing wrong, to blame or castigate them, to label them demons, rather it is to speak up about what appear to me to be better choices. Sin — missing the mark — is always just a starting point for growth and healing, at least to me, and not a feast of schadenfreude, at least to me. I have no interest in gossiping about the transgressions of others, only an interest in what I can learn from them.
It is the force of separation that builds negative identity, leading us to know what we are not and who we should blame. For many, that separation is comforting and natural; do the divine work by attacking and silencing those who challenge us. After all, they are wrong and evil.
Seeing where other people are right, finding the kernel of truth inside their beliefs, searching for the common ground that connects us, is a much more challenging ask. It is also the basis for love, compassion, empathy and for community.
When we see where other people are right, we have to see where we are wrong, where we need to correct our own choices. It’s almost impossible to be both smug and open at the same time. Dropping our defences means dropping our assumptions too, letting go of our stuff to find better, to be transformed.
Yes, I have indeed offered a sermon or two in my time, just as I have listened gratefully to many. My hope is that at least a few of them will stand the test of time and offer something useful to future readers. We all want to believe that our hard won lessons, the result of our work and our suffering, will might help others get better a bit faster and with a bit less struggle, even though we know that everyone has to learn the same lessons for themselves.
It’s all I can leave behind, I fear.