Day one of writing for the sake of writing and noticing that it’s . . . let’s see here . . . Friday. Morning. And February. I can’t really be held responsible for knowing the actual date, can I?
Friday. I’m not ready for it to be Friday, I’m really not. We had a busy week this week. A doctor’s appointment for Hannah Wednesday afternoon, a sleep study for Ry overnight on Wednesday, a big day out with all five of us on Monday, and my Tuesday of Women’s Bible Study, and a Thursday Evening of Choir for four of us. (Note the chronological order there!) Anyway, the point is, it’s Friday and I’m preaching on a difficult passage on Sunday for which I’ve done very little preparation so far, and I still have major Lent thinking to do. This is not a comfortable position. Maybe that’s why my head hurts
I think I’m still expecting Super Mom Homemaker performance out of me while I’ve added two big working-like things to my schedule in the last couple of months. I mean, sure, the reality is I’ve never been Super Mom Homemaker. My homemaking skills are lacking in big ways, loaded with baggage enough to fill the cargo hold of a 747. But now I seem to have an excuse for totally losing track of my house. I’m never going to be That Mom who has it all together, who works all day and has a spotless home. I don’t really know how she does that. And now, I’ve taken steps that lead me even further from her standard.
I got a job. A bona fide job, though I don’t think I’m thinking about it quite that way. I lead worship in a church every Sunday. They put my name on the sign outside their building preceded by the word Pastor. I’m not technically their pastor, not from an ecclesiastical perspective anyway. I haven’t been ordained. I only just a couple of weeks ago became a candidate for ministry. But this church had me as pulpit supply a couple of times and decided to ask me to fill their pulpit every Sunday, and so, that I do. They’re right down the hill from my house, less than a third of a mile. And I can lead worship there and still get to the church where my husband is the pastor and where my children go. It’s ideal. Really, truly ideal. And I love it.
But it means that I now intersperse into my day-to-day stay-at-home mom life sermon preparation. My first month went well. Not having really set up an overall plan, I’ve just been following the lectionary passages week to week. During the first four Sundays, why I just whipped out those sermons! The passages were rather straightforward, their Word screamed out at me. But then last week came. And now this week. Last week was Exodus 34:29-35 and 2Corinthians 3. And things got tricky for me. Though I think I came out with a faithful understanding and explication–insomuch as anyone can. And now this week’s passages are Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Romans 10:8b-13. Except I just had them put Romans 10 in the bulletin because I don’t think I can extract 8b-13 from the rest of chapter 10. When I first looked at that passage, I started backing up in the chapter, feeling like I needed a larger context for it; I didn’t like starting with 8b. So I kept backing up and ultimately concluded I can’t extract chapter 10 from chapters 6 through 10, but I don’t think anyone would appreciate my standing up there and reading four chapters of Romans and lecturing for the next six hours. I don’t know why, but I don’t think they’d like it.
So. Now I realize it’s Friday. And I have all kinds of thoughts to think before Sunday. So I pray. I pray and pray and pray for God to yell really loudly and clearly to me so that I, Queen of the Opposite-of-Brevity, will hear the the nugget for this day. This week. And that’s the thing, I think, about preaching. My belief is that Scripture is a living Word. It’s a dynamic thing. God doesn’t change, and Scripture is constant in the words on the pages. But something happens when the Holy Spirit works through Scripture. God speaks to us. Today. Scripture is not a puzzle to be figured out once and for all. It is a dynamic vehicle through which God continues to communicate with us day by day. So when I’m preaching, I’m not looking for the definitive, this-is-what-this-passage-means, period. for all time. I’m looking for What does God have to say to us today? And Scripture is the only way we have of knowing that. But God is bigger than Scripture and Scripture is bigger than we are. All of this is the reason why we don’t just read the Bible once and be done with it. Why pastors don’t just preach on every passage once and be done with it. If each passage (verse or chapter) of Scripture had only one way to hear it, one way to understand it, one way to apply it to our lives, then there’d be no reason to return again and again to its pages.
Those are my rambling thoughts on Scripture. Which means, that they are open to argument and correction, that I haven’t looked up anyone else’s thoughts on it in this moment. Just thinking thoughts. To get to my bottom line: as I approach the preaching task every week, my task is not to provide the one, definitive interpretation of that passage. I don’t have to answer every question, account for every nuance, proclaim the ultimate message that can then be sealed up and locked in a box as IT for all time. My task is to provide space and opportunity for God to talk to us today. For today. To give us our daily bread. If our faith–anyone’s faith–hinged on my ability to figure out what, precisely, God is saying in a particular passage of Scripture, pack it up, folks. We’re sunk. My job is to hold the plate while God provides us bread enough for today.
I tell myself this to take off some of the pressure (although I’m still left scared to death as I’m still working as a serving platter for the King of Kings!) I also share it with others. With other preachers who are in need of some humility, who would do well to open themselves up to a God who’s far bigger than they’ve been giving him credit for. And I share it with people in the pews, to remind them that the ultimate source of life-giving Bread deals directly with them. The days of priests as mediators, as the sole bearers of God’s Truth have passed. If what I provided as preacher was the one, definitive interpretation of a passage of Scripture, when you returned to that passage, you would be returning to my thoughts, not God’s Word.
That’s why I only write in pencil in my Bible. Haven’t you ever had that experience? When you hear someone explicate a passage of Scripture and you think, “YES! That’s IT! That’s what this passage means! That’s what it’s saying!” It really is an amazing experience, and you really do hear God talking to you. So you hurriedly scratch notes down in the margin, and you underline, and you’re bursting with the excitement of revelation. But then months or years later, you look back on those notes, and suddenly they don’t make as much sense. They don’t seem to apply to the situation currently at hand. Suddenly, that glorious epiphany seems distant and no longer applicable. Maybe it’s only happened to me. But those experiences have taught me that not every interpretation is universally applicable. However,the fact that an interpretation no longer applies in a different time and place does not make that interpretation any less true. It does not discount the earlier revelation.
The fact of the matter is, in Scripture we participate in a great mystery. A mystery beyond our comprehension. God himself meets us there. God. Meets us. There. And speaks to the minutiae of our lives, providing for our daily needs. So, when you hear someone say something life altering in their explication of Scripture, by all means, write it down, remember it, internalize it, and celebrate it. But use a pencil. Because you need to leave room for our living, breathing God to tell you something different next time.