When I first started preaching a couple of years ago I really had no idea what I was doing. Nothing in my life had led me to believe that I would one day be standing at a pulpit delivering messages derived from Biblical passages to a bunch of people sitting in uncomfortable seats, paying close attention. On Sunday mornings.
The only real references I had were my own experience going to Catholic church in my growing up years and my friend, Margaret, a pastor here in Vermont, who conducts the service at the Peru Church in her bare feet.
Bit of a span there.
I thought, in those early days, that I had to have some sort of pious habit on Sunday mornings. Like I should wake up before sunrise, scrub my face with sand, drink unsweetened tea made from nettles and take a quiet walk down the dirt road in sandals. Pretending all the time to be contemplative.
I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing or being the right person.
I thought it would be great to have a study, filled with religious and spiritual books, where I could sit and dip my pen into an inkwell and compose a message of great import for the masses to absorb.
Here is what I've learned along the way: God is pretty psyched with the weirdo that I am and have been all my life. If I had changed my habits or my ways when I became a preacher, I'll bet God would have laughed. Or maybe cringed.
In the early days I turned to theologians and scholars and other pastors for help when I was writing a sermon. Needless to say, most of my sermons sounded like they were ... written by someone else.
I drink tea in the morning, so usually on Sunday morning I make myself a cup of tea. Like most modern-era morons, I check the wires: my email, texts, Facebook, the news, maybe. And then I sit down somewhere and put the finishing touches on what I'm going to say during the Morning Message portion of the Sunday morning line-up at church. I write my notes in pencil, I sometimes have printed references. I almost always include stories from my ridiculous life. I try really hard to get myself out of the way so that the Spirit can send something interesting through me. It's really not so much about me, after all; it's about something much larger than me and my job is to get out of the way. Or, to be a conduit.
"Tell me what they need to hear, " I say out loud to no one in particular each week. And then I hope my radar is working.
And I'm pretty sure that that's how it's supposed to be.
I have no idea what God is or even how to describe God, most days. But I have a good feeling about the whole God thing. I have a feeling that God has dreams, too, about all of us and this nice world. I think God does want things to be OK. I don't know why we spend so much energy making a mess of things. I think that God is on our side.
God knows that I don't know much of anything and God seems to be pretty OK with that.
Sometimes God sends messengers to let me know I'm not too crazy or completely off-track.
In the summer of 2014 I was invited to preach at the Landgrove Meeting House. They have summer church there, and each Sunday during July and August someone is invited to lead the service. It's usually an interesting cross-section of community members and practicing preachers. At the time I had not started seminary and I had no idea what was going on. My life was heading in a direction that was a total mystery to me. I just kept saying Yes to everything, which I recommend, even when you are afraid to say yes. Actually, especially when you are afraid to say yes.
I went to the Meeting House a few Sundays before my scheduled day, to get the lay of the land, to see how it was done. It's a terrific place and you should go this summer. After the lovely service everyone hung out on the lawn and snacked and chatted.
I met a gentleman then who was probably in his early 80s, a former professor at Princeton Seminary. I couldn't believe my good fortune, that right there, on the lawn, in tiny Landgrove, Vermont, was just the person I needed to help me figure out what the heck was going on with my life. A seminary professor!
I told him my story, that I was starting seminary in the fall and that I would be preaching in Landgrove in a few weeks and that I had no idea what I was doing. I asked him if he had any advice. I thought he might recommend some good books or classes I should take. I thought he might give me some Princeton professorly words of wisdom.
"Don't change a thing about yourself," he said. "Keep smiling that smile. The world needs that smile."
I'll be back at the Landgrove Meeting House on August 6. I am hoping to see him that morning because I need to thank him for telling me pretty much all I needed to know.
And if you will excuse me, right now I need to brush my teeth and get to church.