Strolling Down Memory Lane

One reason for this blog is to create a central repository for my past sermons. They’re online in several other locations, but I’d like to have a place of my own for them, independent of church or other websites.

As I’ve been copying them to here from other places, it’s really reinforced to me how context-specific sermons really are. While I certainly don’t have a photographic memory, as I re-read some of these sermons, I specifically remember what issues were going on within the congregation at that time, or in the lives of specific individuals, or even in my own life, that led to the particular way the Lectionary text spoke to me, and how I felt led to preach it, on that given week. I often remember where or when I deviated from the printed manuscript, and why, in that preaching moment, I decided to do so.

I guess that’s an important point: if you read my words on the Sermon Archive page, realize that what’s archived there are the written manuscripts of sermons that I preached in the past. But those are actually essays, not sermons. The sermon is what was actually spoken, what was actually delivered, in the preaching moment. Different preachers prepare in different ways. I like to write a very detailed manuscript – which is what is archived here – and to have that manuscript in the pulpit with me, in case I completely blank out – but otherwise, to really never look at it. Oh, I might glance at it a few times during a sermon just to catch a word or two, but really, the point of writing it out, to me, is the process of mentally engaging with words, phrases, teasing out the best way to say something. In the process of doing that, and actually putting it to paper, it becomes ingrained in my mind and I don’t really need the paper at all. You have to *know* what you want to say, which is something very different from having *memorized* it. You can’t rely on a printed page. Reading sermon manuscript is something different, and far less meaningful, than preaching a sermon. If you know what you want to say, and how you want to say it, you’re liberated from the captivity of the printed page. You’re also free to modify it on the fly, in relation to the feedback you’re receiving from those in attendance. Your brain isn’t focused on reading every word, verbatim; it’s free to recognize how, based on that input, you might feel led to expand on this aspect, or minimize or completely leave out something else. And you can do it, because you really know the true arc, the trajectory of the sermon, and where you need to end up.

But all that is really lost when a person who wasn’t there, in the moment, reads a sermon manuscript. Frankly, that’s also true even of listening to audio or watching a video of a sermon. The person doesn’t know the context of what happened in the past week that made the sermon address what it did. They don’t know that the whole town is upset because the greatly loved public servant had just been caught embezzling funds, or whose parent was just hospitalized, whose husband was just diagnosed with a mental illness, whose son just committed suicide. There are so many cues like that that make rehashing a sermon, out of context, far less understandable as it was delivered.

But preaching remains the word of God proclaimed, and because of that, it not only speaks to the specific moment for which it was prepared and in which it was delivered, but it also has the power to speak in other contexts, to people facing similar, or even completely different circumstances. The sermon that said X to a person in a small rural farming community a few years ago may speak something quite different to a person in a completely different setting and life context.

So do these sermons have any value to new readers? I suppose so. They certainly document the progression of my own thoughts and preaching. They are slices in time that can give some approximation of what was being proclaimed from the pulpit.

I do have a technical question for fellow bloggers who may read this. My ideal would be to be able to create a page to put these sermons on, but to post them as individual posts, which can individually be tagged, with relevant scriptural text, sermon topic, etc. But I can’t seem to figure out a way to do that. If you know how that might be done, I’d appreciate feedback.

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