Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Winging It

I'd worked on the sermon most of the week, a solid concept having surfaced and presented itself Tuesday morning when I reviewed the texts.   That review had led to study, and a checking in with my archives to see what I'd said about that particular scripture the last time I preached it.

It was the road to Emmaus story, an old familiar tale of two disciples on a journey who encounter a stranger who turns out to be Jesus.  And so I wrote up my sermon, diligently preparing it throughout the week.

Only midway through the week, I found myself travelling after a death in the family.  In those travels, I encountered a peculiar stranger, and we talked about faith at the crossroads of a small Southern town.

That stranger's name, discovered as we parted and I stepped onto a train heading north?


But I'd already finished up my sermon.  There it was.  It wasn't bad, not at all.  1,450 words, reasonably crafted.  There were jokes.  It was timely.  Only it felt like another sermon needed to be preached from the story of my own life, having just met Jesus on the road and all.

I hemmed and hawed.  How was I going to write that up?  My Saturday was completely full, with a funeral and family obligations.  There was just no time to crank it out.

Back and forth I went, and finally--meaning half an hour before the service--I decided to just wing it.  Meaning, to go without manuscript or notes or outline, and just go with the basic outline of that sermon that had intruded on my nice neat plan.

So that is what I did.  Though I had my previous manuscript there in front of me, I left it unpreached.  What came out was just what came out.  It seemed to work.

There was a point in my life, a point I can remember, when that would have been a really hard thing.  It would have filled me with mortal anxiety.  Get up in front of people and talk, with nothing but my own mind between me and stuttering, rambling embarrassment?  Ay caramba.  As a pathological introvert, winging it was the stuff of my nightmares.

But I've spent years knitting together my wings, a feather at a time.

From the discipline of preaching, week in and week out, it no longer seems like the vast thing it once seemed.  Oh, it's still a big deal.  It's still a sacred thing.  But I've done it, and done it, and done it.  I've been blessed with the chance to play with it, to test myself with different forms and methods, to reach a point where I'm comfortable enough to just do it.  I don't always nail it.  But even those times I've publicly failed have been teaching experiences.  At a bare minimum, they've taught me not to fear failure.

In that, it's like the other practices of faith.  Maintaining disciplines of grace and forgiveness makes those acts come more easily.  The more we reinforce patterns of Christ-like behavior in our lives, disciplining ourselves to remain open to the Spirit, the more we are able to move graciously and kindly through times that might otherwise break us or poison us.

Kinda the point of this journey, eh?