Sermonizing with just notes

For our second sermon in class, we were given a list of Old Testament passages from which to choose. We were to prepare a sermon (12-14 minutes) and preach from notes only – no manuscript. I’m pretty good speaking, but going 12-14 minutes from just 175 words is a little disconcerting.

I ended up writing a manuscript, since I thought that might help me internalize where I wanted to go with it. Then I went back through to identify which key words or phrases would help me get through the various tasks and moves. I think I would have been more comfy with 200 words, but you do what you have to do…

Thankfully, it went better than expected. No cotton mouth. Less nervous energy. Of course, I’m fighting a cold or sinus infection, so that probably helped lower the adrenaline a bit. I got good marks for imagery and instincts. In fact, the closest thing to negative feedback was that I could have organized differently and tightened things up. I probably would have gotten there, if I’d had another day to play with it.

So, here it is -at least as I would have done from the manuscript. The actual sermon was a little more rambly…

Shelter from the Storm
from Psalm 27:1-9

I love words. Singing them, speaking them, playing games with them. But especially writing them. That’s one reason I started blogging- to have a creative outlet for my writing. I can jump online from anywhere and write stories, poetry, or just plain observations. It’s about as close as I’ve ever come to keeping a diary or journal. In fact, I’m about to finish up my 100 Days of Prayer series. For the past 90 or so days, each entry has been a prayer.

As I’ve looked back over those posts, I realized that they look a little bit like the Psalms. Some are prayers of praise and thanksgiving. Some are confession or frustration or intercession. Others are just talking with God about what is going on in my world. Our reading from Psalm 27 is in that vein.

In verses 1-3, we see that God has been active in the psalmist’s life. When the enemies are geared up and advancing, the psalmist can be confident and trust in the Lord to be faithful. The enemies stumble and fall, so the psalmist had no need to fear.

So often, verse 4 has been pulled out of its context for use in praise songs, hymns and liturgy taht it’s easy to go straight to worship. Why would you be thinking about worshipping God in the middle of a psalm about war and enemies and battle? I mean, it’s always good to praise the Lord. And certainly, David’s dancing and singing after bringing the ark to Jerusalem set an example for us in worshipping God. But as soon as you read on through to verse 5, it becomes clear that this verse isn’t just about worship.

It’s about where the psalmist wants to be in the days of trouble- in God’s dwelling, being safe, hiding in the shelter of the tabernacle. We’re talking about one of the most basic human needs. Food, Safety and Shelter.

Like most of us in the room, I have never had to worry about having shelter – a safe place to stay. My parents were able to provide for me and my siblings. And we’ve been able to provide for Tim. Sometimes our shelter as been in apartments, sometimes houses, and sometimes hotels, or even less sturdy places like tents or cabins. But I’ve always had a place to live. But sometimes, even that doesn’t seem to be enough. Remember hurricane season 2004?

That was the year that 5 storms hit Florida, 3 of them ripping right through here. Charlie hit on August 13- a day of trouble that stretched into over a week of power outages, months of roof damage and years of rebuilding. At some point that season, there were 4 different storms lined up, one after another from the coast of Florida to Cape Verde – just like an advancing army in the Atlantic. Each one with a name, waiting their turn to crash into Florida coast.

I was ready to ask God to create some heavenly force field that would make the storms go somewhere. Anywhere but near me. The idea of God’s dwelling as a storm shelter was very appealing. God took care of us that season. And has every year since. We have been blessed. We as a congregation have been blessed. Those sighs of relief are followed hard on by prayers of gratitude and praise. We were able to gather as a community and sing and make music for the Lord.

The final portion of the passage was a bit of a puzzle to me. It’s not unusual for a prayer or a psalm to change gears like this. In fact, I see that in my own prayers sometimes. But I had to wonder what would cause God to hide God’s face from our psalmist? From us? What would cause God to turn away a servant? I don’t think it was about breaking the house rules, like not putting the toilet seat down or not picking up after oneself.

It seems that we’re talking about something deeper than basic needs like food, safety and shelter. This is about relationship. God’s relationship with God’s people.

This takes us back up to verse 4- Certainly the psalmist has that same very human desire that we do- to know that we will indeed be with God in that house with many rooms for all eternity. Or even to experience God in some tangible way here and now. I think we can read it that way.

But this is also about our heart’s proximity to God’s heart. Spending time in God’s presence. Becoming so attuned to the Spirit that our thoughts are God’s thoughts and God’s desires are our desires. Seeking God’s counsel on decisions large and small. Seeking God’s face as we discern God’s will and being faithful to follow it.

Throughout the Old Testament we see God at work in the lives of the Israelites, keeping up his part of the covenant. And when the Israelites obey God’s commands, when they are following God closely, God protects and prospers them.
Moses- the stammering slave is able to lead God’s people through a sea, across a wilderness and right up to the edge of the promised land
Joshua follows God’s specific instructions about marching and yelling and blowing a horn, and yet the walls of Jericho fall
Gideon who wasn’t even sure he heard God’s voice, obeys when God tells him to send most of his army home, and yet they still defeat the Midianites.
Even Jonah, who is slow to obey and mostly ungrateful is saved from death and gets some shade

We can be assured, as our psalmist was, that when we come to God in humility and obedience, God will hear us and not turn away. When we walk humbly in obedience, we are walking alongside the God who loves us, is our light, our salvation, and the stronghold of our lives.

And while we walk with God individually, we are also called to be a community of faith, walking together. So I wonder, what is it that causes us to lose sight of who God is? What fears might keep us from hearing and responding to God’s will for this particular body of believers?

God has called us to some big and difficult tasks in this season, from building our new worship space to developing a plan to have an impact on even more people in our community. It makes sense that we might be looking for assurance. That we might need to name some of those fears.

Perhaps some of us are worried about money. Just like most of our households, expenses for our church have gone up while income has stayed the same or dropped. How could we possibly launch a successful capital campaign in this economy?

Perhaps some of us are afraid of our faith community feeling too much like a business. After all, strategic plans belong in corporate boardrooms, not churches. How can we possibly be responsive to people’s needs if we are bound to a long-term plan?

Perhaps we are afraid of not growing. Attendance this summer dipped pretty low and we’ve lost some long-time members over the past several months. How could we possibly talk about pay for and maintain a larger facility with so few people? What if we build it and nobody comes?

These and other fears that we are feeling and sharing – or keeping private- generally go back to a very basic fear. We are afraid of the unknown. Not knowing what life and the world might look like next week, next year, 5 or even 10 years from now.

But isn’t that what faith is all about? Walking – not blindly – but hand in hand, in humble obedience, with the God who knows exactly where to take us.

Transformation is a scary business. Change can look and feel a lot like an enemy army pressing in. But isn’t that what God is all about? Transformation.
Transforming hearts so that lives are changed.
Tranforming lives so familes, neighborhoods and communities are changed.
Transforming communities so that they can change the world.

Every time we pray “Thy will be done, thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
We are praying for transformation- that we would be part of God’s transforming work here on earth.

I don’t have any more answers than you do, really. I don’t know how to make those fears go away. But I know it’s hurricane season again. There are storms lined up in the Atlantic. We can’t make them go away, but we can prepare – prepare with hurricane kits and prepare our hearts for the stress. We will listen to our weather radios and obey and orders, and we can trust God to get us through.

I also know that the Spirit is breathing heavy winds of change our way.
We’ll need to prepare our hearts for the losses we’ll experience as we give some things up. Prepare our hearts for the joy we’ll experience as new people and ministries become part of our mission. We will listen for God’s voice for ourselves and help one another discern. And we can and trust God to help us see it through.

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