Scheming for a Sermon — Part 1

November 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”  — Soren Kierkegaard

I’m not sure I altogether agree with “SK’s” viewpoint, but I’m certain of one thing — no matter how easy/difficult it may be to actually understand the Scriptures, the challenge of communicating some of that understanding to a group of folks gathered for a Sunday morning liturgy remains for clergy everywhere (me included!). There’s nothing I would like better than to whip up a moderately meaningful, reasonably cogent (and mildly entertaining) sermon in a few hours, give said sermon, forget about it quickly and move on to the next thing on the pastoral list. Presently though, I seem to be going backwards in the “time required for preparation” category. I think I’m devoting more time to such efforts now than when I began preaching a few years back!

Somewhere in seminary, I remember hearing a professor give the following ratio of preparation to preaching. He said, “It takes about two hours of study, reflection, writing, editing and re-writing to produce one minute’s worth of preaching. According to this metric, a twelve minute sermon equates to twenty-four hours of work.” The professor assured us that the more experience we procured the more efficient we would become at the task, thus reducing the amount of time required to prepare a passable sermon.

After this past week, I think I need a remedial homiletics course! At first I couldn’t think of a theme for the sermon. Then I couldn’t develop a plot trajectory that would somehow get all of the disparate parts of the sermon to “talk to” each other. Everything seemed “clunky”. Poor sentence structure. Serpentine thought processes. The sermon seemed to be trying to do “too much” one minute and not really accomplishing much of anything the next. Whole paragraphs were written, re-written, tweaked, re-read and deleted. A sermon that had been “mostly done” by Friday, was nowhere-near-done by Saturday morning and was thoroughly scrapped by Saturday evening. Thank God I get an extra hour as a result of the switch back to Standard Time!

Given “SK’s” comment, I have to wonder: underneath all of this homiletical angst, am I really just a scheming swindler? What are the ways I want to escape from the simplicity of the Scriptures? How do I  hide the obvious messages contained in the Bible under the tarp of exegetical complexity? Aggravating questions that spin in my head incessantly…even when I beg myself to “let go and just write the durned thing!”

“O God of grace and glory, deliver me from my self-centered scheming. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear the clarity of your Good News for all people contained in the words of Holy Scripture. I ask this in the Name of the Eternal Word, Jesus, Son of Mary. Amen.” 

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