It is the Tuesday after Easter. I am running a little slow catching up with posting on my various sites, catching up with my work, catching up with life in general.
It is the Tuesday after Easter. Here at the diner where I often write in the mornings, the Easter decorations are down. What’s left of the Easter candy has gone on a 75% off sale and most of it is gone, snarfed up by the local kids and chocoholics.
I did an Easter Sermon at both churches, of course. One bright and early at 9AM and another in the evening at six. One of the churches I serve had double it’s normal attendance, maybe 40 or so The other was missing a lot of regulars. I think we had eight.
See? The title of this blog is more appropriate than you thought. These are two tiny churches. Both have come close to closing a time or two. Both run on shoestring budgets.
I began this blog thinking I would post my sermons. People have asked me to do that for some time. But I am finding perhaps that that does not work so well. I am not even so sure how well it works in the church.
It’s not that I am a bad preacher. If I can believe what people tell me, I’m fairly good at the whole preaching thing, even if I am pretty new at it. But through these past three years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned something important.
Preaching at people isn’t very effective. Talking TO people is. At least that seems to be the case for me.
I spend a fair amount of time each week preparing my sermons. Typically I pick the scripture I want to use early in the week so my choir director and organist can pick music to work with the sermon topic. Through the week I study and gather information that might work with the scripture. Then late in the week I write the thing. It’s thought out, carefully arranged. There is a mix of scripture, scholarship and real life in them, all orchestrated to be a (hopefully) interesting and effective 20 minutes or so.
I’ve been doing talks for 20 years in my work, so the actual delivery is not hard for me. Most Sundays someone or two says they like my sermons.
“Like”. Bleah. Such a bland namby pamby kind of word. Even though I know they mean it and they mean something nice about it, when I hear the word “like”, I think facebook, where “Like” can mean “duly noted”, or “like”, or “I just wanted you to know I like YOU.” It’s become the milk toast of compliments.
But here’s something else I noticed.
From time to time, I go completely off script. Something will happen towards the end of the week that touches me deeply, that troubles me, or makes me struggle or think hard. Something that makes me throw out my carefully crafted sermon and just talk. There’s no 10 pages of notes and outlines. There’s no plan. I just talk.
And when I do that, almost without fail, I am WAY more effective than when I preach. People come out touched. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a hard way. But touched. Hearts are reached in a way that they are not when I preach. I find out later, sometimes much later, that those talks changed something in people. Those are the “sermons” people remember.
I don’t know why that surprised me. I think it has been the same with Jesus’s words. Jesus preached. We know that. The sermon on the mount is oft quoted, often taught. But what touches us more about Jesus?
The times he was talking to individuals and small groups. Not preaching. Not teaching. Just talking. We remember his conversation with Nicodemus, with Peter, with the rich young ruler, with the woman at the well, with his disciples, or with people he healed.
When he talked to people, not at them.
I was thinking about that this Easter. There are all sorts of classic Easter Sermons. Most of us who have gone to church most of our lives have heard each of them. There is the “Prophecy” sermon where we cover how the crucifixion and resurrection are predicted for generations before Christ lived. There is the “Injustice” sermon and the “Pain and Suffering” sermon, where we focus on how wrongly Christ was treated, and how much he suffered, all designed to remind us of how much Christ loved us, that he would suffer that much for us.
There are variations of the “Ressurection changes everything” sermon. Which of course, if you are a believer, you know to be true. There is the “women were the first to see the Risen Christ” sermon, the “Anything is possible with God because Ressurection Proves It “sermon. (That’s the one I did this week.) And many, many more.
Easter is just too big. In a world where every other ad on TV claims that “this changes everything”, Easter really DID change everything. No hyperbole. No marketing needed. We need all those sermons, year after year, to even begin to understand the depth and completeness of Easter. It’s a big sprawling story, with bigger, more sprawling implications.
But in the end, it’s our stories that touch people. Just folk talking to folk. “God got me through this.” (“This” being your own struggle, loss or brokenness.). “Christ answered my prayer.” (Again, chose your story.). “The bible guided me through ______________” (fill in your own situation.). “Understanding God’s forgiveness and love helped lift my own guilt about __________”
All of us have a story. Places and situations where God touched us. Where Christ touched us. It’s part of why we believe. Real stories. Our stories.
And they are far more powerful than sermons, trust me. At times I feel like we could just scrap sermons and share our stories and it would be far more effective than sermon time. Far more hearts and souls might be reached.
More and more, I think I am done with sermonizing. I just want to share my story and where my story intersects with the Gospel. It’s messy, my story. It’s not as well crafted as a sermon.
But it has the benefit of being more real and more honest and my guess is that it might be more effective too. Stories trump sermons every time.
The same is true of all of us. Our stories matter. Your stories matter. Your sharing your faith journey is way more effective than my spouting scripture and history without a personal context.
So do it. You don’t need study. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need training. You have a story. You know what has happened in your own life when your life intersected with God. What you don’t understand is how powerful the sharing of that intersection is.
The apostles knew. These early disciples of Christ did not have a theological education. They did not have a body of theological literature and scholarship to draw on. But read in Acts and read in the Epistles and over and over again what they share is their own story. And look what happened. From nothing…. the church.
Easter is too big. Our stories humanize it and make it real, comprehensible, possible. Avilable.
It is the Tuesday after Easter. By week’s end, all vestiges of Easter will be removed from our world until next year. Don’t let that happen in your heart. Don’t let that happen in your sharing of your story, your big, sprawling story of Easter that lives in your life.
Tell your story. Freely. Honestly. Openly. And thus, powerfully.
Be well. Travel wisely,