Fussing with the Text

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.”

4 Responses to Fussing with the Text

  1. Mike Thomas says:

    Great fussing with blog. Mike


  2. Ed Beddingfield says:

    Strange you should write this this week. Sunday eve. a church member called on other business and said my sermon was one of the best ever. I said thanks, but added that I thought it was one of my biggest duds, so her affirmation made me feel better. What I think was going on, though, was the opposite of this blog: I did NOT wrestle, but spoke simplistically (due to very short time because of other things in the service, including baptism). So I undershot my congregation’s intelligence, but the sermon being easy, they liked it. I’m not beating myself up – I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I wasn’t being lazy, just efficient. And certainly God was present, at least to that woman. But there are lots of reasons why someone might like a sermon, not all of them high and holy.


    • Joyce Hollyday says:

      Mahan, this rings of truth for me. I’m wrestling this week with the “wicked tenants” as I’m preparing to preach on Sunday. It’s a hard and unsettling text. I often feel compelled to tack on the resurrection word. But, though there’s hope about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone, mostly I just feel a need to sit with the lament and loss of this one. And, although the vulnerability of that is uncomfortable, it feels more authentic.


  3. Greg Cochran says:

    Thanks Mahan. Something a good friend told me years ago, when I was struggling with my faith yet was to work for the summer at a church near my home, immediately came to mind: “Greg, I would rather have someone who is struggling (fussing) with their faith guide my children, than some one who believes they have it all together.” Still a good reminder for me as are your words.


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