Monday, June 7, 2010

Drunken Preaching and the Skeletal Remains of Sermons

Two things happened over the last week that caused me to make a change in worship yesterday.

Thing Number One: The Sunday before last, I awoke with a fever. I was a mess. Chills and aching and a deep cloudiness let me know that I'd let an internal infection go too long. Through the miracles of ibuprofen, I was able to get the fever under control before going to lead worship, but my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders. This is not conducive to good preaching under any circumstances. Mostly 'cause folks asked me to, I've moved away from using a written text for my sermons, meaning I've got presentation software to give it form, but have to come up with the words as I go along. Normally, I can do this just fine. But illness worketh not well upon my cortex. I was able to mask it through most of my sermon, clinging to my Keynote like a crutch. It was a bit rambly, but that's just me, so people are used to it.

Then it came time to end the sermon. I like sticking the landing when I preach. That means bringin' it home. It means summing it up. It means using chiastic structure to conclude where you began. That's a good sermon, baby!

But...I couldn't. I couldn't seem to finish. I'd start what I was sure was the sentence that would lead to the paragraph that would end strong. But it would veer off. I'd start in again, swooping downwards towards that perfect summation, only to drift away clumsily. I felt, quite honestly, like I was engaged in the homiletical equivalent of trying to land a Huey after having downed four single malt whiskeys in rapid succession. I finally bounced in to a hard landing. It was ugly. Or so it seemed to me. I'm not sure anyone else noticed.

Thing Number Two: Last week, I sorted through the files of the church computer, after things had gotten too cluttered. As I neatly sorted all of the records into nice hierarchical files, I noticed that my collection of sermons over the last year I had all of the presentations I'd prepared. They were all there.

But as I looked at them, I realized they were lacking something. The framework of the sermon was there, sure. Images and bullet points, all right there. But what was missing was the meat of it. There was none of the language I'd used. There was very little indication of the bible study and work that had formed my labor for a year's worth of Sundays. It was like coming across the skeletal remains of six dozen sermons. Yeah, with some forensic exegesis, you could reconstruct what they once were. But as a theological resource or a record of my work? They were dead things. Useless.

Those, I think, are two of the problems of moving to an outline and presentation-driven style of preaching. It's easier to stumble if you're not "on." More significantly, it means there's a loss of memory...a forgetting of the things you've thought and said and prepared.

So for a little while, at least, I'm going to go back to written texts. Maybe just for the summer. We'll see.