You Had to Be There

Preached at Cullowhee Baptist Church 4/15/2012.

No text today. Ever since moving to the mountains, I’ve struggled to find my preaching rhythm. When it also happened to me in Iowa City this New Year’s (aided and abetted by a grueling travel schedule), I decided to abandon my manuscripts for my more natural extemporaneous preaching. Last month at Shepherd of the Hills ELCA, it seemed to paid off–while I lost some rhetorical flourish, I felt much better about the sermon than I had in some time. Today, though, I think I was undone a bit.

Today’s lesson was Doubting Thomas. My message was that the passage, taken as a whole, reminds us that we are not blessed because of our association with Jesus, as the disciples had been. Instead, we are reminded that his message is for the rest of us, and that he has given his spirit to all of us who believe. Similarly, we should take his lesson and take our value not from the adulation of the world, or the reflected glory of our better-known or richer acquaintances, but instead rest easy in the knowledge that we carry the spirit equally and get all the status we need from it.


But. I wasn’t leading the service today. So when it came time to deliver my sermon, I came in cold. Without my pre-sermon bantering and interaction with the audience to set the tone, I could have used a manuscript to pace me. Instead, I too quickly escalated into the intense Nathan that is so easy for me to summon. And that had the effect of obscuring the message that we are all loved children of God, and do not need the validation of society to be great. The tone conflicted with the message of confidence and hope in our embodiment of the holy spirit. Owing also to not having a lot of pre-sermon time prior to the service to recollect my thoughts, I spent too much time in the Biblical text early on, rather than making the parallel today part of the opening. The result was that I didn’t “go slow,” as the saying tells us, but got higher in the text and couldn’t dial it down for the application of today.


I’ll need some more reflection to figure out where my groove has been. I feel like part of it has been losing my sense of worship presence; my job as a campus minister is much more sitting in smallish groups and trying to pry information out of people than anything else. So I lose a lot of the performative aspects of congregational worship. Part of it could also be the knowledge that I’m coming at things from a different place from others I’m preaching to (the ELCA congregation of mainly-transplants was more natural for me), but I’m not sure. Regardless, I think the result today was that, while the sermon wasn’t a disaster, my presentation of it hindered the ability of the folks I had in mind while writing it to get the message I offered.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *