Sermon and the City


You are now reading into a moment when this minister wishes there was no church at all, so that she could enjoy a Saturday night like everyone else.

Tonight I wrote a sermon in the midst of a party I could not attend.

I live in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, a city that is currently teeming with the excitement of both St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the Big 10 Basketball Tournament.  I actually live across the street from Conseco Fieldhouse, where the tournament is being held.  I didn’t really choose this location because I love basketball, but for the energy and excitement of downtown life.  I moved into this building so it would be easy to meet people and have fun.  After living in New York City for three years, I was not too excited about biding my two-year fellowship in a garden apartment in the suburbs where I knew no one.  So I opted for a choice location right in the middle of it all.  Indianapolis is actually a pretty great city, and has a good downtown.  I can walk to Nordstrom’s and the Indy Repertory Theater and Sushi on the Rocks.  I live next door to a rowdy dueling piano bar.  The bartenders know my drink and I have met some great people in my building. 

There is a sports bar in the ground floor of where I live; I don’t even have to go outside to find the party.  It’s right here.  During big events like this weekend, they close off part of the parking lot for bands to play.  Right now I can still hear the music playing downstairs, floating up from the streets and through my thin windows.  The guitar and bongo players are actually really good.  They are playing all my favorite songs, and other people my age are drinking and celebrating and jamming to the good music.  All I want to do is share a beer with a friend.  Maybe request a slow song, something like "Satellite" or "One," hold hands with him and sneak a quick kiss before the band returns to playing "Wonderwall" or I "Walk the Line."

But it’s Saturday night and once again I have procrastinated my sermon.  There is no chance for that beer tonight.  There is no one to sing with or hold hands with or kiss.  There is only the looming of Sunday morning responsibilities – and the probability that I won’t be able to sleep with all this noise and nonsense. 

When I went to college, my father cautioned me that I would never get any rest.  I was the kind of person, he said, that would always be looking for the next big thing.  If there was even a chance that someone somewhere was having fun without me, I would forgo the study session or the much-needed sleep and search for that fun.  He was right.  I absolutely hate to miss out on things.  But now that I am “reverend,” I have had to give up on the fun and festivities that I would rather do in order to fulfill the expectations of ministry.  This is life; it happens with everyone who has to work for a living.  I understand that.

But it’s Saturday night and I am aching to cut loose.  I want to celebrate the weekend.  I yearn to enjoy the fun of my youth while I still have it, to feel the butterflies in my stomach, to go out in the city where I pay rent and actually live in it for a while.  But not tonight.  Tonight I will eat Stouffer’s frozen garlic chicken and drink cranberry juice – straight up, no twist. 

The sermon I wrote is for Palm Sunday and focuses on the city of Jerusalem.  I borrowed a refrain from the Wild Goose Resource Group about Jesus “taking on the city.”  I lament the crime and injustice of our metropolitan communities.  I go on about how Jerusalem was in the midst of political turmoil, and how people must have been crowded into the city during the biggest festival of the year.  My lesson is that even though Jesus could have returned to the hills and fields and shores of Galilee, he turned his face to the teeming violence of an anxious city.  He redeems the city with the conscious choice to confront it head-on.  God does not only live in quaint villages or pristine nature, but in the middle of the city on the brink of destruction.  That is my sermon.

But the city I am aware of, the city I live in, is not on the edge of political revolution.  The city I know is full of fun and life, of music and celebration.  Tonight I wrote about the wretched city, trying to preach the Word of God, while all the time wishing that I could give up on this stupid sermon and go out on the town.  But I don’t.  While Jesus can confront the city, I apparently cannot.  I deadbolt the lock and shut out the music and focus on the computer screen.  I leave the life of the city to Jesus and retreat to my own streams and hills to try to pull inspiration from something that does not exist.  And Jesus goes out to the party and meets his friends, has a beer and enjoys the music – for me, for all of us.  Amen.

Now the band has finished playing.  The late-night clubs are getting packed and the really drunk folks are stumbling towards taxis.  That’s fine.  I don’t really enjoy clubs.  I’m more of a hole-in-the-wall kind of girl.  Besides, this is probably the time when I would head home anyway.  At least my sermon is done, and I will have something to say about God to those people who really need to hear it tomorrow morning. 

That’s the good news.  The bad news is I never did hear "Satellite."

Rev. Stacy Smith is a Lake Fellow in Parish Ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN.


3 replies
  1. Kate W.
    Kate W. says:

    I hear your sentiments exactly. It’s tough to be ordained and young in a fun city full of life and excitement. Although I am married, we don’t have any children and just when my husband is ready to go out and party with friends or neighbors on a Saturday night, I am the party pooper, designated driver getting cranky and needing sleep before church in the morning. I hear ya!

    Reply
  2. Sarah S
    Sarah S says:

    I don’t know what it is that keeps me from writing that sermon earlier. Every Monday I pledge to begin early. Every Saturday I am at my coffee table with the laptop. Most Saturday’s my husband is working (he’s a musician) but every now and then Saturday could be a date night…if it weren’t for my undone sermon.

    Reply

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