Fussing with the Text

September 26, 2011

I asked a Monday morning sort of question: “How did it [the sermon] go yesterday?”

This pastor, in his first years with his first congregation, is finding his way of preaching. His response: “Well, its weird. I’m scratching my head. I got more positive comments from that sermon than any of the others. Usually I don’t get any specific comments. But I didn’t feel good about it. When I finished and sat down, I felt awful. My sermon was disjointed. I rambled around, but it wasn’t for lack of preparation. Rather, as I worked with the text during the week more questions surfaced than answers. And it showed, I guess. So, I’m bewildered. I don’t understand. They liked it, at least some did. I didn’t.”

Here is my hunch about what happened. And, of course, it is only a hunch. This we know, mystery of the spoken word (written word as well) defies neat explanations.

In my friend’s head, by his own admission, are ideals of “good” preaching. A sermon is to be a polished, clear, poetic, eloquent. It is a packaged message from pulpit to pew. That’s the way it appears — preacher speaking to congregants, a performance no less.

My hunch is that his vulnerable, honest wrestling with text drew his listeners into their own engagement with the biblical text of the day. I bet that he was naming their questions and their “what ifs.” With considerable courage, I imagine him publicly fussing with this biblical passage, or, better worded, allowing this Word in words to fuss with him. Perchance his curiosity whetted their curiosity; maybe his yearning for truth ignited their yearning; perhaps his longing for meaning awakened their longing. I like to think that his out-loud conversation with the text was like every other engaging conversation, that is, stumbling for right words, anguished pauses, reaching deep for breakthroughs of clarity. Not polished. Not compact. Not a neatly wrapped package. But authentic, reeking with authority.

Perhaps listeners found themselves more caught up in the storied biblical text than being caught up in him — and they loved him for it. “Thanks, Rev, your sermon really spoke to me this morning.”