Thursday, June 26, 2008

letting God preach

Yesterday was a rough day. No personal details are coming up, so no worries. But it was rough. I was dealing with sadness, anger, betrayal, name it. On top of everything, I had to preach at the Wednesday night service here at Duck UMC.  My text was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard. How appropriate.  I didn't know how I was going to preach.  So, I decided that I wouldn't.  I told God early on in the day that if He didn't preach, no one was going to hear anything.  

It was probably the best sermon that has ever come out of my mouth.  Go figure.  I had a written sermon in front of me; I had things to say just in case I needed them, and I think I probably said a lot of those things.  But I was honest.  I told the congregation that I didn't want to preach, that I was identifying with the laborers at the beginning of the day who were frustrated by the eleventh-hour workers receiving the same pay.  By the end of the sermon, God had told these people, by way of my mouth, about the beauty that is free grace. By the end of the sermon, I identified with a new character in the story, the eleventh-hour worker. And the congregation was there with me.  It was a beautiful evening, where the people gathered in that room all realized just how undeserving we are of the grace given by God, that we are all eleventh-hour workers.  And for those who didn't identify with the eleventh-hour worker, they were given a message about the joy of working for God, that doing the work of the kingdom is part of the grace received, that it is cause to rejoice.

I learned a few things yesterday.  For one, I learned a little about how to preach. Letting God do it is a great idea.  Preparation is important; I would not approach the pulpit not having carefully examined the text, but I will now always leave room for the Spirit to move.  It can say more than I could ever hope to say.  I also learned how to preach on a really difficult day.  My father is a minister, and it always baffled me that after a terrible, tragic Saturday night, he was able to preach.  I learned that having a challenging day personally was no reason to approach the pulpit as if it were a couch in a psychiatrist's office. I prayed fervently that that would not happen, and it didn't. I also learned that being vulnerable is important. Standing in front of others to preach while admitting to being a broken human being is powerful.  People respond to that kind of honesty, and I thank God for my personal trials because of that.

Time has gone by incredibly fast this summer. It is hard to believe that in five weeks, I will no longer be at this church (I am staying an extra week because I attended a UMC conference in May).  This has been a transformative time, one that I wouldn't trade for anything.

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