Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This week's sermon
  • Step three: find a thesis
  • In the best of all possible worlds, I would now set aside my sermon notes for a week or so -- the better to let me mull over their meaning for today.

    And in that best of all possible worlds, I would have finished my sermon before it came time for me to pick out bulletin information, i.e. my scripture, closing hymn, and sermon title for this week's church service.

    But this is not the best of all possible worlds -- and since I spent last week catching up from our church's ski trip . . . and I need to turn in bulletin information on Thursday morning . . . and I've never yet completed a sermon by Wednesday night . . .

    Well, the bottom line is that today's the day I need to get a rough idea of where this sermon is going.

    So . . .
    • Start with prayer.
    • Read the text again.
    • Look over yesterday's notes; highlight the parts that seem relevant.
    • Check out "alms," "fasting," and "prayer" in Bible dictionaries.
    • See what Ellen White says in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing.
    • See if I can find my copy of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, and Stott's Christian Counter-culture. (No luck -- make a note to check the church library.)
    • And since I've been told the Epistle of James is a midrash on the Sermon on the Mount, check it for any additional light on the subject.
    • Think, think, think, think, think.
    After a couple of hours, some ideas begin to emerge from the haze. For one thing, I'm going to save verses 7-15 for next week; if I tried to include them in this week's sermon, they'd overpower anything else this text might say. (No problem -- since I don't follow a liturgical calendar, I'm free to add another sermon to my series .)

    Second, there's a tension between these verses and Matthew 5:13-16 -- "let your light shine" versus "be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men." To be sure, it's resolved by Levertoff's statement that "we should be seen to do good works, but we should not do good works to be seen." Still, I need to reflect that tension in this sermon.

    Third, both Ellen White and Eugene Peterson's The Message emphasize our need to practice the kind of mitzvoth Jesus talks about in these verses, even when it seems as though nobody is paying attention. Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
    When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
    Finally, I need to deal with this whole idea of "reward" -- a word that shows up seven times in these verses. To speak of a pay-off for serving God seems mercenary . . . but not to speak of it seems naive. (And if the past is any guide, the fact that this puzzles me means it's important.)

    So . . . let's fool around with the idea of reward -- secret rewards for secret people doing secret things.

    And no, I still don't have a thesis . . . but at least I have enough for the church bulletin:
    • Sermon title: "God's Secret Agents"
    • Scripture: Hebrews 6:10.
    • Closing hymn: #421 "For All the Saints"
    Tomorrow: Avoiding writing.

    1 comment:

    richies said...

    Since I am a member of the procrastinators club, I never finish a sermon before giving the bulletin info. I find that having to give the bulletin info helps narrow my thinking and makes me focus enough to finish the sermon. (usually Friday night)

    An Arkies Musings