Editor's Note: It's happened to many of us. We casually start looking through the lectionary texts only to discover that we have to explain an inexplicable text. The month of September has presented more than a few opportunties for exasperated sighs and hair pulling. Many just finished having a go at the dishonest steward, the infamous "problem child" of the parables, after having exegeted Luke 14:25-33 only two weeks before that. Here, young clergy woman Katie Z. Dawson describes not only sermon writing process but also how she approaches "difficult texts." How does your process compare to what Katie describes?
I am a preacher who likes difficult texts. I like to get inside of them and wrap myself up in them and really just cut to the meat of the matter and let Jesus' words speak for themselves. I pray that I get out of the way enough to let the Holy Spirit move!
My sermon writing process starts when I spend the first half of the week absorbing the text, reading some commentaries, and studying the lectionary with other local pastors. But then I let the studying be and don't try to write anything. I have found when I try to write too early, the sermon has far too much of what I want to say, far too little of the Holy Spirit, and I usually end up throwing it out come Saturday night. Instead, I let the events of the week flow into my thoughts. In this particular sermon, a news story that really provided the impetus for my writing. Other times it is a television episode, a conversation I have with a family member, or something cute that my niece or nephew does. I look for the ordinary ways the gospel has come alive in my life that week, and usually it is that moment of "aha" that starts the "sermonizing".
I hesitate to admit how many sermons come together on a Sunday morning, but to be truthful, I must say that when I finally sit down with a laptop and type, the words usually come easily. I write out the sermon from beginning to end exactly like I would stand up and say it. If I had a bit more confidence in my extemporaneous speaking abilities, I probably could preach from a very simple outline. For now, I write out exactly what I would say if I had to stand up and preach about the text and with very little editing, my sermon is written.
When I am willing to put in the work to tackle a difficult text like this and then preach a hard truth, my church folk are ready to hear it. They are yearning to know how to apply these words to their lives. I'm not afraid to speak the truth with my people, because I know that they love and trust me as much as I love and trust them. At the same time, I am careful with how a difficult text may have been used and abused in churches, and, if the moment calls for it, I will often preach against a traditional reading of a difficult text. Yet, if we never preach about the cross we are called to bear, then we are simply not setting the bar high enough for our folks. The gospel is meant to transform lives, and that begins with recognizing where we are and how far we have to go.