One of my favorite things to do is write sermons. Don’t tell anyone, but I’d do it for free. Delivering the sermon is pleasurable, but the preparation is usually what brings me the most joy.
You might think I’m referring to the research, but that isn’t it exactly. I do love to read. Some of my dearest friends I’ve met exclusively through their writing. I feel like I know them so well because good writing is a window to the soul. I’m not sure where I’d be without Clive, Gilbert, Fyodor, and Thomas. I’m so thankful for Søren and Blaise and Flannery. These have been my faithful companions on this journey of life.
But the joy of writing sermons, for me, is not simply in the linking of ideas. It is in the discovery, and ultimately, in the sense of being led.
Some passages of scripture preach themselves. All you have to do is simply read them aloud. For example,
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
But others are much harder. My initial response is often a blank stare. What does this even mean, let alone what am I going to teach about it?
But this is where the sense of being led begins. Suddenly things start to stir. As I read the passage over and over, the waters slowly begin to clear.
As it does, little lights go off and connections are made. Examples spring to mind. The passage begins to unfold. One of my very favorite experiences is when a difficult passage is suddenly illuminated. It is such a sacred and holy moment. The verses that first appeared so opaque are suddenly seen in their brilliance and depth.
But that doesn’t happen every time. Sometimes I just get stumped. Everything feels dry.
I have a secret technique when it gets to this point. I turn and stare at my books and wait. And time and time again, something bizarre happens. I’m drawn to one in particular. I’m not saying I close my eyes and pick one. It is as if a book is somehow illuminated. Often I don’t remember what the book is specifically about. I’ve read it, but it was a while ago. I pull the book off the shelf and open it and start reading. And there it is. A key that unlocks things. A bit of wisdom that points me to the thing I’m missing.
It is like being given a hint or a short cut. It is a little humbling but mostly exciting. It has happened so many times that it has become familiar.
I was telling my friend Kate about it and she exclaimed, “there’s a name for that! It is called the library angel.” I looked it up, and sure enough, it has even made it into Wikipedia. Their blurb says it is chance or coincidence, but I’m pretty sure I know better. I call it the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is our teacher. The Spirit pushes us deeper. It surprises us. And sometimes it gives us hints when we’re stuck. It is playful. It likes to be sought after. And it loves to take us deeper. Scripture says He will lead us into all truth.
The nudge is often the critical, missing piece. From there you just follow the thread. It isn’t an idea growing in my mind. It is like completing a puzzle without knowing the final image until the last piece is placed.
Preparing sermons has become another lens through which to see God at work in my life. I’m reminded of that beautiful reality that we are being led. And that, while God longs to be sought after, even more He longs to be found.