Sunday, November 08, 2009

Preaching

My first semester of my first year of seminary I took Introduction to Homiletics, just like every other first-year student. I assumed that the professor would provide the class with marvelous insights into preaching, a dazzling array of resources, and at least one formula for crafting the perfect sermon. What we really got was a semester of stories about preaching, but no clear guidelines on how one might go about doing it well. Each week we turned in a sermon outline, and each week we turned in a critique of the week's chapel service, but feedback was minimal.

In fact, it was only about a week into the semester that the professor, may he rest in peace, called upon the first victim, er, preacher. And I made the mistake of being the first person to offer feedback-positive feedback, I might add--on the victim's sermon. "OK, Red, let's hear you next week. Psalm 51." I almost threw up. I went home and called my aunt, also a Methodist pastor, and asked her what she did the first time she had to preach in class.

"I dropped the class," she said.

Great.

I decided not to react so hastily, wrote what I thought was a passable sermon, and tried not to puke in my shoes as the day grew closer. My dorm-mates dutifully gathered in my room the night before to listen and provide feedback, and I was on my way.

As I delivered my sermon in class, my legs nearly buckled under me and my hands were drenched with sweat. I'd always had nearly paralyzing performance anxiety, and such symptoms were detrimental to a piano performance. But the beauty of that day was that I realized I could be literally shaking all over with fear and it would have little to no effect on my sermon delivery. It was horrifying, but survivable.

Despite the fact that we had very little professorial guidance in the class, I heard some of the best sermons I've ever heard during that semester: Yahweh's defeat of Baal, Jacob wrestling with an angel, mothers who incorporated their children's wisdom into their sermons, people whom I never considered particularly wise at all sharing insights that made my jaw drop. Good sermons that to this day inspire me to draw everything I can from the text. My peers were my teachers, a gift for which I am always thankful.

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