Saturday, May 1, 2010

Preaching Imagination, Acts 2

I am four days away from the Acts 2 sermon at the Pepperdine Bible lectures. This one has not appeared willingly. But I'm at a place now where I'm confident that its going to show up. The sermon is now writing itself. One choice leads to another. One image builds on another and forms a circle with others, both reflecting and anticipating.

I have my text memorized. I have the first two moves in draft form. The third move is sketched. And I know the basic shape and thrust of the final move. I will end the sermon with a series of refrains that ends, "but, God raised him up." The salvation offered in the text is that God still pours out his Spirit on those who unwittingly find themselves resisting his work in the world. This was true for the devout Jews in Jerusalem. It's true for us as well.

That's where we'll end. And I hope it is a cascading moment. That the momentum of the sermon launches us into the final phrasings. It's a little like ski jumping. You don't always hit the perfect place to soar, but when you do...

But before we get there, I want to bring us back to some of the themes put in play in the earlier moves. The sermon starts with the hope of Israel. I want to end going to all the world. The sermon begins with the longing of Simeon and Anna. I want to end with our longings for more. The sermon begins with our relationship in Churches of Christ with Acts 2. I want the sermon to end with the possibility of a new relationship with Acts 2.

That's a lot of plates to spin. The risk here is to be so scattered that all the energy of the sermon spills and is dissipated. But I think I have a way into the move that will allow the pieces to fall neatly together. We'll see.

Sermon endings are the hardest part of preaching for me. I much prefer the anticipation, the building, the development. I like working in commas, not periods or exclamation points. But this sermon deserves some exclamation points.

So, if you're helping me with some good sermon mojo, pray for clarity and courage.

I want to have the sermon written by Sunday evening. I will fly to Malibu on Monday, giving me all day Tuesday to rehearse. I will write a manuscript, which is not my usual practice, and I will likely take it up to the podium with me. But I plan to have the sermon orally manuscripted, which means I've said it aloud enough that I no longer need to read it. It is another way of internalizing, of conforming, of preaching from the inside out. It's not memorizing proper. But its pretty close.

The rehearsing is so important. The more I've done this, the more I realize how important my actual voice is, how important cadence and rhythm is. And I've learned how what I hear in my head is not what others hear as I preach. I'm slower than I think. I need to think constantly about energy. And its important for me to actually preach it, not just memorize it, for me to feel the sermon, to bodily anticipate the next moves.

Which brings me to one last observation. Preaching, at least for me, is a full contact sport. That is, I'm realizing how physical my preaching is. Even beyond the fact that I don't stand behind the podium (although I'm not a pacer), there is a sense in which preaching starts in your toes and involves concentrated effort, a projection of yourself for 25-30 minutes (the typical length of a lectureship sermon). And I am now 50. And while I don't think I have one foot in the grave, I know that I'm no longer the person I once was. And in particular, I have a benign essential tremor that used to only show up in my hands, but now I can feel throughout my body, especially when I'm coursing with adrenaline. And I will be coursing with adrenaline. And when its bad, my voice has a tremor and gets thin and reedy. And all of that robs me of a feeling of power, or projection, or connection, or incarnation, or something. And so, I'm anxious about that.

Thanks for those of you who have traveled through this preparation with me. I am taking several conversation partners with me into this moment.


thepriesthood said...

well, don't just leave us hanging, M Love. throw your two subscribers a bone. got it on a podcast? a pirated digital copy? the digital MS? something?

i've enjoyed the unfolding process.

Stephen Goodall said...

My 15 year old daughter is volunteering to preach a sermon (her first) in Brazil in about a month. Made me think of you and your Acts 2 sermon in Malibu.

Mark Love said...


Thanks for sharing this. It made me smile.