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What if the situation you’re planning to preach on changes completely?

September 10, 2010

time...is not on your side

Short answer? You preach it anyway.

This has happened to me many times before, and I’m no longer surprised to have it come up again. I’ve planned it out well in advance, and maybe that deserves a bit of explanation in and of itself.

Many people who will read this (or rather, the few that will) probably write the bulk of their sermons on Saturday nights. A smaller majority may even wait until Sunday morning itself. I’ve met a few of these high-wire artists, and they live for not knowing what they are going to say until nearly the moment when all exasperation and time conspire to give them what they need. Some have the audacity to say they are leaving Room for the Holy Spirit to Work; to which I reply, I don’t believe you’ve shown the Spirit enough respect for it to bother turning up for a Hail-Mary pass at the last minute.

If I haven’t done it months in advance, I generally have picked my scripture and have a working sermon title on Tuesday. That means I know where I’m going and what I expect the last line or so to be, but don’t have much idea how I’m getting there. Then, either that day, or the next, but Thursday at the last, I’m in the library, the public library of one town or other in a ten-mile radius, crafting what I will say and how I will say it.

That means I will often glom onto something that scripture makes me think of that is current in the news. And what is current in the news in 2010 on Monday is a far cry from what’s current on Friday. I don’t mind that, except when we have a week like this one.

This week a pair of publicity-powered pastors decided that the best way to celebrate the 9th anniversary of 9/11 would be to burn copies of the Qur’an. One of these dopes has appeared in the news for other hateful stunts in Jesus’ name, the other was relatively new. You’ll note the absence of names or links to articles about these pouty provincials.

Yesterday, not exactly at the eleventh hour, the latter, lesser known little man decided to take the advice of probably more than 90% of the world’s population that had spoken about it and would NOT burn the Qur’an. It gave me pause, since he’d been the one I thought I’d be speaking about (without naming him). I worried about it, until a wise parishioner (herself of a lineage of preachers and teachers) reminded me that “there will always be people doing things like this in the world.” Why change the sermon now?

Why indeed? She’s right. Once you’ve crafted your message, you stick to it. The fact that something new developed in the case didn’t change the point it was at when you wrote the sermon. We still all went through the emotions we experienced as we learned what this bird-brained book burner was up to. Burning books is still no answer to any problem, and a Christian who felt this path was viable is most certainly one of the most lost of lost sheep (yes, working on that Luke 15 passage).

And wouldn’t you know it? The other negative ninny has decided he’s STILL going ahead with his book burning, no surprise, so what had felt like a less-than-relevant sermon will now be right in the pocket. The congregation doesn’t know it was about another fellow to begin with. The persistent pastor with the persecution problem came through in the end.

Get that sermon done, as soon as you can, and stick to it. If it’s honest, if it’s true, it will hum right along fine. Who knows, the Spirit may even honor you with a visit and reward your wonderful planning.
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