I preach 30 Sundays a year for the Church of Christ in Lake Orion, Michigan. They’ve been kind to me and I have benefitted from their grace and love through challenging times in my life. I often wish I had more to offer in return.
It’s not preaching like I’ve done it before. My sermons don’t carry the added thickness of pastoral care like they did for congregations that I served full-time. And I don’t spend as much time on sermons as I once did. Truth is, I often don’t get to my sermon text until Saturday morning. I try to have a sermon in mind at the end of my Saturday morning time. That puts a lot of pressure on Sunday mornings. I get up early, eat breakfast at a little cafe and write my sermon there. I then go to Starbucks for real coffee and memorize my biblical text while I upload caffeine. Sometimes that’s a verse or two, but most of the time its a fairly decent chunk. I’m often amazed that I can get it memorized in such a short period of time.
It’s all sermon prep without a net. One false move and I simply don’t have a sermon ready. So, I can’t have chatty waitresses or long lines at Starbucks or a loud group of people nearby. As a result, I’m often anxious on Sunday mornings, which is precisely the mindset you want to be in when you’re about to bring the Word of God. Not!
Yesterday I was particularly anxious about my sermon. We are preaching through 1 Corinthians and I had drawn chapter 14. Tongues, prophecy, women keeping silent. You know, easy stuff. Some guy trying out for my gig on a full-time basis snagged 1 Cor 13 the week before. Who couldn’t preach a good sermon on that? Even John Lennon could preach that text. 1 Cor 14 is a tar baby.
I wrote my sermon at the cafe. So far, so good. But got to Starbucks and encountered a long line. And I’ll just be honest and say I was not particularly in a Christian frame of mind.
And then it got worse. A woman carrying two bags with all her worldly possessions, with stringy scraggly hair and a vacant look in her eyes appeared near the register. She was hovering, looking at the pastry case. She was clearly oblivious that there was a line and that she should be behind me. And I had a biblical text to memorize.
The people in front of me were served, slowly. The scraggly haired woman kept staring ahead vacantly, not participating in the good order and societal decorum of the line. And I knew deep down somewhere that she would choose the place right in front of me to interject herself into the world of commerce and sermon preparation.
And she did. The people in front of me got their orders and she simply walked in front of me to the register. And I should say that I wasn’t thinking particularly Christian thoughts at that moment. I HAD A SERMON TO PREACH! SHE CUT IN LINE! RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! THERE IS NO GOD! @#$%*&!#$!
I found myself in a parable unawares.
The woman at the register shot a glance at me. She knew. And then she looked at the woman and smiled. “Just coffee today?” she asked kindly. It was in that moment that I recognized myself in the parable. I was the rich man despising Lazarus. I was the laborer who had come early in the day, infuriated by the kindness of God to those late to the game. I was the religious leader passing by the man lying beaten on the side of the road. I hate when that happens. I found myself staring at my really nice leather shoes and at the necktie that I had chosen with a sense of pride in my stylishness. I am a man of unclean lips.
“It’s on me today,” she said to the angel we were entertaining unawares. My day was re-set.
I didn’t get my text memorized that morning. I lost the need to after witnessing this divine encounter. And I didn’t mind as much as I might have later that morning when the person presiding at the table, eager to make his comments about the offering, jumped up after the bread but before the cup making a hash out of decency and in good order.
You would think that by now I would know about moments like these, and come to expect them even. Some of you are thinking it serves me right for waiting so late to prepare my sermon or memorize my text. I think you might be next in finding yourself in a parable not of your own choosing. I’m simply hoping that by the grace of God I’ll be better when I’m older.
I’m tempted to see churchy culture (tie, shoes, punctuality…) as a third character in this story, fanning the flames of tension between us and them. But I know that’s not the real issue. Even if you were grungy after a run in the park, had no agenda to accomplish, and no deadline to meet, you could still have lacked the vision and compassion to see what was going on right under your nose. Thanks for sharing the story. I can soooo relate.
This made me miss you…..again, still, more, etc.
Find myself in those kinds of moments far too often. Thank you for sharing
Great story…two things :
1) Absolutely remarkable sermon yesterday…truly incredible….and
2) Thanks for reminding me through this illustration that I’m not the only one failing every day!! But through grace and good preaching, we’ll hopefully get better every day…
After Kevink’s comment, I’m curious about the sermon if that’s not too nosey!
This reminds me of the story of the prodigal son … in which I always seem to be the brother that stays home.
Heh – “worship hash.” Couple meanings, both relevant/useful. Thanks!
Don’t count on getting older making you better, but I hope it works. And I have noticed that angels appear when least expected.
“I wrote my sermon at the cafe.” That answered my question
As a man whose been to every seminar on motivation, the universe, sales, and even a few Joyce Meyers gigs, I can say with conviction- Your teaching moves me like nothing else has. Not that I’ve noticed an unpreparedness or that you having the “chunk” memorized doesn’t impress me, but it’s this humility and truth that made me see the “Kingdom” for the first time. I’ve stuck with LOCOC almost solely because of you and the way you make me feel that this Kingdom IS a club I’m welcome in. A group with “unclean lips” that tries to look for the scraggly haired woman, but misses her even when we’ve got Him on our mind. I’m laughing at what adjectives you used to describe my hair after I spoke with you for like 10 minutes at Starbuck’s before service!! 🙂
Interesting how we rush through life and it happens right before us.
Reblogged this on On the Edge Again and commented:
They are wake ups but I am thankful for each one of God’s personal teachings.
I love it when God teaches me personally. I call them God moments.
Mark, would you say/blog something more about the benefits you’ve found in memorizing the text for each sermon?
When you’re packing your underwear and also other person hygiene things ensure you base this on what type of travel time you will be experiencing in involving the various hotels you’ll be staying at. In the event the journeys will be lengthy distances then pack in line with that, on the other hand; if they are shorter journeys you will be capable to buy items you’ll need and will possess the chance to wash your items for the duration of your stays.Items that you should really have handy and not packed away when traveling around the bus would be books, your MP3 or iPods and
Actually… I was looking for another post entirely when I stumbled across this one. I’m pretty sure providence had nothing whatsoever to do with it. You originally posted this on my birthday, almost two years ago which makes this the SECOND belated birthday gift for 2012 I’ve received in three days…I’m weirded right out. But thank you Mark… terrific piece! I’m now expecting an article of comparable insight and profundity for my birthday this year (if it’s not too much to ask).