Hard Words

I remember — in fact I told this story yesterday — when my preaching professor in seminary told us not to preach two hard sermons in a row. It’s just too much. People can’t take it. And I’ve abided by that knowledge. I’ve been careful not to preach too much about social justice or stewardship, even when the text begs for it. I’ve tried to be pastoral in my preaching because that’s what I would want to hear. If I were sitting in the pew, I would want some good news.

My preaching professor also loved to ask that question. She would ask us time and time again: where is the good news in that? I think I might have argued with her on this. Maybe I didn’t vocalize my protest. Maybe it was only in my thoughts that I rebelled. But, I argued that there was good news in a hard word. That we needed to hear that sometimes. Let’s be honest though: I need to hear it. It is my butt in the pew in every sermon I write. I’m not wagging my finger at anyone but my own self.

I’m reminding myself of that on this Monday morning. This coming Sunday, I’m not preaching. At both worship services, we will have an exploration of words and songs as some of our gifted members offer their talents. Usually, my Monday mornings begin with study. I start to explore the sacred text on Sunday. It frames my entire week so that these ancient words are the words that I carry with me into every meeting, every pastoral visit and everything else. I welcome a break from preaching. In fact, I try to give myself a break at least once a month so that I can get a chance to take a breath and reflect on what I’ve said. And not said. And should have said.

I have a lot of those kind of thoughts this morning. Because I have preached some hard words these past two weeks. On the First Sunday of Advent, I preached about depression. I don’t have a first-hand experience of depression but it is something that I deal with every day in the congregation I serve. I needed to say something. I needed to give that space for us. It felt right even though it was incredibly hard. I followed that up this past Sunday with a sermon on something I know very well. I preached about grief. I don’t think that either one of these sermons says everything I want to say — or everything that I long to say. But, on this Monday morning, I find myself thinking that I really needed to admit to the darkness of this season. It’s not just something the worship planning group guided me toward. It’s something I really needed so that I could see those incredibly broken places within myself that need the Light of the World to break through. I heard it in myself yesterday because it was so not like me.

I love the practice of waiting for the Christ Child to come in the strange expectation where we know what his life will be while we wait for it. I love making room for that possibility that it could be different — which is why I want to wait for the carols. I want to make room for the anticipation. I want a dramatic shift from the world without Jesus to the world that welcomes him in. Every year, I want that awesome act to knock my socks off. But, this year, I want Jesus now. Not in two weeks. Now. I want the Christ to come before it’s time. I want to know that my Savior is alive. I don’t want to wait. Maybe that’s what preaching hard words does to me. The hope of that child is more real to me that it has felt in years. Still, I wait in wonder.

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