Every Christian preacher will tell you that she or he relies upon the Holy Spirit in writing sermons. That’s the mysterious part, the spiritual push and pull that goes along with study and prayer.
The more prosaic part is my tradition’s reliance upon the lectionary. I know in advance what Scripture we will hear on any given Sunday. Drop in at a Lutheran, Presbyterian or just about any other “mainline Protestant” church and you’ll hear the same readings. That’s why we call it the Common Lectionary.
But I’ll guarantee that in any given church using those readings, you will hear a very different sermon. That’s because each congregation is unique, with its own problems and history and expectations. Also, every preacher is different, with his own background, her own education.
In my experience, I find that my sermon is a conversation that involves me, the congregation and God. It’s an ongoing conversation, guided by the Spirit, which takes us week by week through the Bible and through our issues as struggling humans.
Of course, I read Scripture and study commentaries. But mostly, I study my congregation and the world around me, listening for what is ailing my friends, what concerns are on their lips, what joys I see in their faces. The Holy Spirit speaks through all of them to my heart. And from all that, a sermon is born.
Michael Rich, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville
“Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
Once, I spent the day studying at a park that was on the water in Mill Valley, Calif. While there, I took note of a guy with great athleticism who was wind surfing. I was mesmerized by his jumps, leaps, turns and swerves. In my excitement I said, “Lord, teach me something about wind surfing.”
Well, after a while the wind surfer came to shore. The closer he came, I noticed that this was not a young man; he was a senior citizen. As he passed by me, I spoke and he responded, “A guy your size would sink out there.” With a puzzled and concerned look, I thought, “Listen old man; you don’t know me like that!”
Time had passed and I packed up my things, when I heard the voice of God as clear as day saying, “Now lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily beset you.” In that moment, I was overtaken by a great fear, because I realized that He was listening.
For me, the inspiration for most of my sermons comes from my Bible reading and study, but it is also true that sermons are born from watching a wind surfer, or sitting beside a quite stream. Because sermon inspiration can be found anywhere that God decides to speak.
Steven Richardson, 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church, Anniston