Sunday afternoon is usually a time for me to decompress. Julie and I like to go to lunch on The Plaza or sometimes we pick up a light lunch, grab our tennis rackets and head out to the courts for a few games. There are other times when we head straight home so we can catch the rest of the Chiefs game. Almost every week we talk about the sermon.
We used to have a 24 hour rule about the sermon that I had just delivered. In other words, no discussion about it until 24 hours later. I put that rule in place several years ago because my feelings about the sermon were too raw immediately after it was delivered. If there was something that really needed to be said I figured it could wait 24 hours or so.
My sermons then and now are very personal. The sermon may have an academic focus or be very theologically heavy and filled with scholarly references but it is always personal. Oh, to be sure, I pray regularly asking the Spirit to guide and direct my preaching and planning. I ask for help to focus on what our congregation or our community needs to consider.
We no longer have the 24 hour rule. I break it all the time now. So does Julie. We don’t worry about it anymore. If the sermon has done what it is supposed to do it ought to lead to further conversation about things that matter. The discussion of the sermon has opened up conversations about our family, our dreams, our hopes. Talking about the central issue in the sermon has become a way for us to continue to decompress. The sermon is still personal but now I am trying to ask on Sundays what the message might mean in my life and what is the Spirit saying through the sermon (and the music and the prayers and the community gathered at the Lord’s Table) to me?
These days I am focusing on being real. I don’t mean revealing my inner secrets or turning the pulpit into my personal therapy session. I mean focusing on the real needs in the pews. Through the preaching moment I am striving to invite our congregation to be real, authentic, honest human beings who are trying to follow the Spirit.
Rob Bell, one of my favorite preachers, reminded me of how important this is. Talking about the church he serves he says, “I know there’s a woman in the second row in the second service that has cancer for the third time. I know there’s a single mom named Erin who needs a place to live. I know this guy who just got custody of his kids and he’s trying to figure out how to be a single dad. So to me a church is real people trying to figure it out.”
Church is real people trying to figure out how to live with real problems. Church is a place where we are invited to wrestle with the reality of our lives and the reality that God is calling us toward.