I like bringing a message in programmed worship only every once in a while, because I have plenty of time to think and process beforehand, and even afterwards before I start thinking about the next one! I gave the message yesterday--or at least, I prepared and gave some info about a passage and encouraged people to listen to Christ about it and share what they heard. In this post I'll give a refresher on my topic (in case you didn't read parts 1 & 2 or forgot), and thoughts about some more preparation I did since I posted last. I'll write another post with reflections on actually giving the message, because this one ended up being too long if I put it all in! So stay tuned...
I spoke on John 12:1-8, part of a sermon series we're doing leading up to Easter called "Wondrous Encounters." All the messages in March and April are coming out of the stories of people encountering Jesus in the book of John. The story I spoke about was the one where Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus and Martha) anoints Jesus' feet with a costly perfume.
My seminary class on preaching came in handy. I used several things I learned in that class and in my required, year-long seminary speech class. In speech we learned how to speak clearly and stand so that we look confident, which I tried to do as often as I remembered! (No hands in pockets, stand on both feet, etc. It's amazing as I've watched others speak how much these things really do have that effect on the listener/watcher.) In my preaching class we were required to write out our sermons, partially because we had to turn in the manuscript, and partially because they think it's a good idea to speak from a manuscript. I personally don't care whether people speak from a manuscript or not, as long as they do what's most helpful for them. I find that for myself, I'm better prepared if I write out a manuscript. I have all the ideas in my head, but if I don't write them down I'm not as clear about where I'm going and what my point is. If I speak from notes I generally end up talking too long or going around in circles. So for me, it's important to write out a manuscript, even if I don't stick to it completely. I've seen poorly executed sermons given both from a written manuscript and when they're unscripted, so I think it really depends on you, your style, your personality, and the way the Spirit happens to be working in you at the time. The important thing is paying attention to the Spirit and how you're being led. For myself, if I don't write a manuscript it's usually because I've procrastinated, not that I want to be spontaneously led by the Spirit, and I think this shows and I'm less able to pay attention to the Spirit in the moment because I'm searching for words.
The other thing that I used from my preaching class was the suggestion of how to formulate the point you're trying to get across. The text we read for the class was Thomas Long's Exegetical Method for Preaching, and I think it was out of that text that the professors for our class suggested we formulate three main things in order to hone in on what point we wanted to make and how we were going to make it: Focus, Function and Form. (They even all start with the same letter, like a good 3-point sermon...) Cheesiness aside, it's actually really helpful. The form is a single-sentence summary of what the sermon is about. The function is a single-sentence summary of what you want the hearers to experience, what you want it to do to them. The form is how you're going to deliver the message--so it could be a 3-point sermon, it could be expository or narrative or dialogical or what have you. My focus, function and form were as follows:
Focus: Mary anointed Jesus as Messiah, but as a Messiah who was going to die.
Function: Self-examination of times we try to co-opt Jesus and his message in order to gain something for ourselves (Judas), or we simply misunderstand what Christ is calling us to do (disciples), or sometimes, like Mary, we don’t understand but we get something profoundly right. Recognition that we all have gifts to offer, but we can't offer them with strings attached—only offering them to the Messiah we expect or desire--but must offer them to the true Messiah, even unto death.
Form: Intro, read the text, ask for people's initial thoughts and what stands out; develop characters, ask who people relate to and why and give space for them to answer. Do a little wrap-up; queries to go into open worship.
One other major thing I had to do to prepare was to discern, like in unprogrammed worship, which message was for me alone, which might be something I needed to share with a few friends, and which message was for the group that would be gathered there on Sunday morning. When I wrote "part 2" about preparing this message, most of what I wrote was stuff that I was dealing with or I was interested in, but it wasn't really what I needed to share with the gathered group.
At the same time, I wanted at least some of what I shared to be personal, because others connect better with it if they can tell you're not just preaching at them, you're speaking from your heart about what you're working on, and you're willing to be open and vulnerable before them and before God. It gives them freedom to do so as well, I think. So I tried to incorporate things that were challenging me about the passage, but the main thing I wrote about in my last entry (about "the poor you always have with you") actually didn't end up in the message at all.
This was the first time that I preached where I tried to make it more of a teaching or guided prayer time, rather than just giving a 20-minute sermon straight through. The "Form" I listed above is basically what I did, pausing twice to have people share on pre-determined questions I posted with Keynote on the screen behind me.
Tomorrow I'll post about how the service actually went, how I felt before and during, and moments I was aware of the Spirit or not.