A somewhat rambling reflection
My short and un-illustrious professional baseball career was hampered greatly because I couldn't hit. I don't mean I was just a bad hitter, I was dreadful with my batting average hovering around the 'Mendoza line' (look it up) for my entire career.
The thing that made my hitting so poor was that I couldn't hit...(I know you think I'm going to say curveball)...a fastball. I just couldn't get my hands through the hitting zone fast enough to hit something coming at me at 90 miles an hour (where, by the way, you have 3 tenths of one second to decide and swing).
But a curveball? Don't throw me one of those because I would hit that. Almost all of my hits (few and far between) were off curveballs or sliders, much slower pitches. Unfortunately, once pitchers realized I couldn't hit the fastball, that's all I got. Thus the .200 batting average (saved you from having to look up 'Mendoza line').
Why does that matter to Christ Church? Well, yesterday, Wednesday, I received a curveball when our scheduled priest, Rev. Mark Winward, called to say he had Covid. That meant I had to step in and hit the proverbial 'curveball' of unintended surprises. And I had to write a sermon or message with little time to spare.
I went to work on the message right away, of course, because I had so little time. I immediately spent about three hours preparing what I would say on Sunday.
This had the residual effect of getting me thinking about what it takes to put a sermon together for you. You see, it isn't that easy to put together a coherent and meaningful message without a lot of time. Normally the process takes all week, and sometimes more than a week, to get thoughts together and prepare something you might find worth listening to. A good sermon, sometimes, can take me 10 hours to prepare, all totaled.
I start, of course, by spending time with the readings designated for the coming Sunday. After reading through the readings I begin the process of slowly reading them again (lectio divina, which I wrote about in last week's reflection) to see what stands out to me, what words or stories really hit home and speak to me. Usually I will find something, or maybe two somethings, that get the creative juices flowing. What I'm always looking for is something you can take home with you and use, something that will resonate with you.
Once I have an idea the real thinking process begins, followed by post-it notes and notes on napkins with thoughts about the topic I have chosen to speak on for that Sunday. Some weeks there might be 20 such notes all over my desk, just jottings, words, phrases and thoughts.
Often this is followed by nothing more than more thinking...what is the writer saying to me, and therefore maybe to you? How does God speak to me through these words, meaning not only the words in the readings but the words on the post-it notes and napkins. What is God saying?
A day or two might pass before I go back to the notes. All the while I'm thinking, but not putting things on paper.
Then, (sometimes at 3 am, ask Anna), I will sit bolt upright and say, 'I've got it.' Somehow the thoughts and words have coalesced into a coherent message. This happens almost every time I do a sermon. Somehow the message just shows up in my head. Then, and only then, do I relax a little. I've got enough to, hopefully, give you something to think about and use in your life.
Of course, sometimes I go through this process only to completely change my mind. It happens sometimes. All of a sudden I will realize that I need to speak on something else, I have to get a different message across. So I scap what I have done and go to work on a new message. Luckily I never write my messages out so I will not have wasted too much time typing. But still, I start over.
This Sunday the Gospel reading is Jesus healing on the Sabbath and being taken to task for it. I've preached on this before (law v. grace) so could pull out the old sermon and pray you don't remember it. But, that isn't my way, so I began, right after the phone call, to craft something new on the importance of doing what is right, even if it is the wrong time. Within a few hours I had enough to go on.
Then the second curve ball arrived. I was sitting on the deck reading Isaac Beshevis Singer's book Yentl the Yeshiva Boy (it will make sense Sunday, I promise) when I was interrupted by my grandson during dinner blurting out: 'Grandpa, do you still believe in God?'
Sermon topic change! From that conversation and that book comes a sermon I've entitled "Do you still believe in God Grandpa?"
This Sunday I will explore why I still believe in God (and expect why some of you do too) and how I answered the question to my grandson, leaving him to begin thinking about God in a different way. And, I will speak about how Orthodox Jewish writers like IB Singer and Chaim Potok helped me frame the answer to his question. Those writers are the connection to the reading mentioned above and why I still believe in God.
I hope this Sunday's message will get you thinking about why you believe in God...maybe even in a new way too.