Great fun at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary this morning! Dr. Shauna Hannan and her homiletics (preaching) students graciously welcomed me. Then, I managed to establish a comfortable rapport with a silly gaffe right at the outset. First on my outline was to have us sing two little musical versions of Psalm 118:24, This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. We sang the first, but when I tried to lead the second tune, my mind was blankety-blank; so, I had them sit down with a promise to insert it at any time if I remembered it. After a few minutes, I thought I had it, so I interrupted myself and had them stand again and sing along in a rousing rendition of the second song—except that it was the first one again. A good laugh together served to make my point that preaching is an act of joy at the privilege of sharing the gospel. (Now, unstressed with full oxygen supply to my brain, I can remember both ditties quite handily.)
As I anticipated, the seminarians offered their insights and responses to enrichen our time together. Those steeped in the liturgical tradition helped to define the seasons of the church year and The Revised Common Lectionary for classmates unaccustomed to those practices. Sharing from their own experiences, they commented on why and how liturgy and lectionary deepen meaning in their worship and in their lives.
I encouraged them to use fiction as they develop sermons. One way is to read novels where the situations may not be true but are, mostly, from real life and more typical than one might expect, at first glance, to the lives of those they serve. Another way I suggested–actually creating fiction, in the form of modern parables or brief stories that connect with Bible-based gospel in strong and moving ways.
At Dr. Hannan’s suggestion, I explained the process I use for each lectionary-based entry I write, offering my process as my way and acknowledging that they will each find their own modus operandi. But there are common denominators important to any method devised: studying scripture, utilizing the many resources available for biblical background and theological reflection, allowing time (if/when possible amidst the demands of parish ministry) for ideas to percolate and synthesize, and turning it all over to the Holy Spirit through prayer and supplication (especially late on a Saturday night!). Sometimes, I duly noted, this process can seem dull and irrelevant, but follow your discipline anyway, trusting that God is at work. Eventually, usually, the sparks will start flying!
The final segment of my presentation was a reading of The Second Sunday of Easter from Sunday by Sunday II with an eye to recognizing connections to the gospel lesson, John 20:19-31. I had forgotten to have the scripture read at the outset and was most appreciative when Dr. Hannan inquired if we would be reading it. Her alert intervention helped me maintain the integrity and smooth flow of the activity. After the class, she asked me if I had chosen the John 20 text because I’d seen in the syllabus that it is the assigned text for the sermon the students will be writing and delivering this spring. The answer was no; I had not noticed that. Out of around 170 possible readings from my books, I just “happened” to choose their assigned text. Wow. Lovely.
Yes, I enjoyed this event immensely. I like the podium, the microphone. Making mistakes is not a big deal to me because 1) I make so many and 2) the average group is quite forgiving and bloopers just add to the fun. The best part was meeting these earnest individuals, brothers and sisters in Christ, companions on the journey. The tip-top of that has to be meeting Jason and discovering that we were both born in Woodstock, Illinois—a generation apart—at the old hospital! Wow, again. Connecting and reconnecting with people I’ve met here and there over the years who are now in this class which I got to address was very special. And, of course, meeting new friends, some of whom have already started reading Sunday by Sunday and are really into Rose Harris and her people and her faith is a double wow. I am very grateful for this experience in my life, very glad that I said, “Yes!”