There was a weekend in my life that I will never forget. It was undoubtedly what the Celtics called a “thin place,” a place where the veil between heaven and earth was especially thin. That particular weekend changed my preaching.
My father had recently died. It was heart-wrenching. I watched the hands of time speed up exponentially over those weeks and saw my father, a man in his sixties, become frail and look well over a hundred years old. One of the doctors put it well, Dad was “aging to death.” What normally took people several decades took my father only a few weeks. A devastating feat. So when a man in our congregation who was about my fathers’ age died, it brought back the waves of grief, but also the waves of compassion for his family. The man’s son, who I didn’t know, met me in my office. He was angry. Underneath the anger, though, was pain. At some point, the container broke and his pain poured out in deep sobs.
I had to preach that Sunday but had to first sing at the funeral on Saturday with Marisa. It must have been a particularly busy week because I hadn’t finished my sermon yet. I remember going upstairs to my office after the funeral to write my sermon. I wept and wept as the words became sentences, and the sentences became paragraphs, and on and on. The dry bones of words somehow had the breath of life in them. I felt the weight of glory.
That Sunday, as I walked up to the lectern (in my case, a music stand), I heard God’s voice as clearly as I’ve ever heard God in my life. God simply said, “make it prayer.” Ever since that day, I end each sermon “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I know that some of you arrived at the same place in a different way, but this was the moment that I realized that the sermon is prayer. I’m not claiming that my sermons are always fitting with this revelation. Some, I fear, are more TED Talk than prayer, or more theology lesson than prayer, but at the heart of each sermon is the desire to pray with the Spirit over God’s people. While I’m sure that I’m hit and miss, as I sit down to write each new sermon, these are the words (“make it prayer”) that I hope form and inform my own words.