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I tell you what. I’ll leave it up to you. If a few minutes before you have to get up, and you don’t feel like you can, just go like this (nodding his head in a very particular and revernt way in my direction) and I’ll get up and do it for you.
Recently Br Joseph asked me to preach at his profession in vows. I light heartedly said to those at his service when I was offering a reflection for his profession that Joseph asked me to get back at me for the number of times I’ve stirred him up because he knows preaching is the last thing I’d offer to do.
When I first began having to preach as part of life in community I was not so keen on the idea. I found it a major chore. I remember one occassion being so worked up about it that I became almost paralysed by the thought of having to deliver a sermon. Who am I to be preaching to people whose faith journey has been more solid than mine, what do they want to hear from me, I don’t know enough about the Bible, let along theology. All these thoughts and more would go through my head; building up until I could feel nothing but stress; and a headache not too far away.
On one occasion, not long after entering the novitiate, I went on a parish ‘mission’ with Br Leo and he asked me to preach on the Sunday. I was less than keen on the idea but agreed to do it. As time got closer I got more and more concerned about having to deliver a sermon to a group of stangers who were older than me and no doubt been part of church much longer than me, and in the presence of a brother who has been in profession much longer than me.
Leo became aware of how I was feeling and his response was most comforting and quietly encouraging. First he relieved the pressure I was feeling. He said to me that if I didn’t feel like preaching I didn’t have to. He said you can pull out at any time, even a few minutes before the sermon is to be delivered.
In a way that only Leo could do he both made me laugh, relieving the pressure I felt, and he offered me some advice. He made me laugh because in a quite reverent but comical way he said to me that all it would take would be a little silent nod of the head and he’d take over for me without anyone knowing. He also offered me some advice which has always stuck with me. Start with a story, talk with people not at them, let them be drawn into your passion. If you do that you’ll never have a problem preaching.
At the right time. I got up into this pulpit which seemed to have its own post code and need for supplimentary oxygen and I began. A dramatic story about a seed is afraid that it it falls to the ground it is going to die and from then on, I never had to preach, I simply told the people a story and talked with them, not at them. Afterward people said it was one of the best sermons they’d ever heard.
As I joked about with Joseph I am still reluctant to offer to preach and see it as a big challenge to get over. But brother Leo’s assuring nature and wonderful advice has remained with me.
What I have learned about preaching is yes, one has to have some knowledge of the texts they are preaching on and that we must spend time in prayerful contemplation before preparing a sermon, however, the real key is stepping out of the way of ourselves and allowing the spirit in us to preach God’s word. To allow the spirit to converse with the people listening and be focused on what God has for them to hear and not what we have to say. If in our reading and contemplative preparation we can learn to step aside and realise that preaching is a coversation and it is God who speaks then can be set free of our insecurities and enjoy the blessings God offers us in the hearing of God’s words.
As I said, preaching is still something I don’t feel particularly skilled at, however, I think it is not a sense of skill but rather a sense confidence, or more correctly a sense of letting go and letting God.
This semester as part of my field placement formation I have asked my field supervising committee to give me feedback on my sermons. I’ve asked them if they could tell me ways in which they find my preaching helps them connect with God and what ways I could perhaps make that connection more real and present.
Thus far I’ve only preached on semon. The feedback from the committee was very positive. It seems their comments reflected a lot of what I had taken away from my experience with Br Leo. That is, that through the paricular style of preaching I’ve developed, offering a sense of story and conversation, that people indeed connect with God through what they see as my passion, but I really see as letting go and letting God.
I have had quite positive feedback from both my last parish sermon and the one I offered for Joseph’s profession. What I have realised is kind of what I said earlier, preparation is one thing, but being able to get out of God’s way so that God can speak through the spirit in us is not only what makes preaching for me less traumatic but also offers opportunity for people to hear what God is saying to them and not what we want to say. I think the best sermons I’ve offered are the ones where I haven’t, but God has.