I recently started my second year as a pastor. People have asked me from the start how things are going, and my best answer–throughout–has been that I am in over my head, that I’m being pushed to the limits of my skill and knowledge, but that everyday I feel like I’m doing something I was made to do.
Already there is much I would probably do differently. But there is much I’m proud of. And before the second year is too far underway, I want to highlight a few of the those things, starting with sermons.
I spend as much time writing sermons as I spend on everything else I do. And while I’m better at it now than I was a year ago, throughout the year there have been a handful that are particularly important.
The Good Friday service wasn’t recorded, but it was the first one I did where I felt like I provided pastoral care to my church. It was a very simple combination of communion, music, and Scripture readings, all designed to evoke the grief that accompanies losing a sense of God’s presence. I knew that was a very real experience for several members of the church. And I think that particular Good Friday service validated that experience, without letting go of the expectation of God’s promised return.
The Sunday after Easter, I got to preach in a sermon the message I wanted the Good Friday service to convey. How can God disappear when his kind of love and power are so needed? When I stepped off the podium, I felt like I had just won a battle on behalf of some pretty wounded people.
This was a very personal story about hearing God’s call, delivered at Mosaic’s annual Labor Day camping weekend. It was a rare sermon that just flowed out as I was typing, finished in about two hours. And delivering it was a powerful experience. Unfortunately, the recording quality is poor, but it’s mostly audible.
I loved writing and delivering this sermon. I had the general topic, and was looking for a passage to preach from that could talk about it. I stumbled across the familiar story of the healing of the blind man in John 9, and found in it a story of Justice and Hope that I had never seen before. It was an entirely delightful experience of learning, and then turning around and sharing what I had learned. Truly one of my year-one favorites. It was such a gift.
This was another message that seemed to be written in my heart before I wrote it as a sermon. The basic framework came quickly, and then I spent one of my days off polishing it–not because I felt I had to but because I was really excited about it. The outcome was a sermon that deeply affected me and at least a couple of other people. I’m proud of it, and even more I’m grateful for it. I look forward to teaching it again.
Other Milestone Sermons
This was the first installment of the first Bible series I preached. It’s not a tremendous sermon. But it’s the very start of a first attempt to do something I had never had the chance to do before: to preach my way through a book of the Bible. And in the process of doing that, I learned a lot about what that means.
This was an intentional attempt to close one chapter in our church’s history and move into another. And in hindsight, it kind of worked. I would repeat the basic message many times afterwards, but it was in this sermon that I first began urging Mosaic’s members to think about ways to look outside our walls and serve others.
I consider this to be the worst, most embarrassing sermon I’ve ever written. I felt compelled, I don’t remember why, to deliver it when I did. But there was so much more study and conversation that ought to have been done before presenting it. I cringe when I think that people may still be downloading and listening to it. However, grappling after the fact with the ideas and problems that this sermon tried to address, as well as the holes in the sermon itself, led to some extremely valuable and groundbreaking conversation and work. Later in the year that work would deeply influence the direction I set for myself and the ways I spoke into the church’s planning for 2014 and beyond. It’s possible that this worst-sermon-of-the-year will have the most lasting impact on the church. Even though that impact will probably be invisible to almost everyone but me.
This is part of my life-message: that work is fundamentally good, it was damaged in the fall, and it can be redeemed. I tried in this sermon to take apart some common myths about work and rebuild them in redemptive ways. I didn’t accomplish it as well as I would have liked, but I was really glad to be able to preach on it nonetheless. And because this was compressed into a relatively short time, I’m proud of the amount of material I was able to pack in there.
The presence of God emerged as a big theme in my personal study, spiritual growth, and pastoral development in 2013. This was the first sermon where I taught on it very specifically. It was also the first time I framed the Christian mission as “carrying the presence of God throughout the world,” which has become a central theme in my teaching and leadership more recently.
I taught the first half of Romans in the Fall of 2013. It was incredibly tough and incredibly fun. I learned a lot about Romans and Paul and the doctrine of grace. And in this installment, I stumbled upon a way of drawing raw data from my study time into a live presentation in an accessible way. Probably not the most polished installment in the series, but definitely a milestone in my development as a teacher. And it was very well received.
I put the Romans series on hold to deliver this sermon. This was a unique leadership moment that involved making a pretty pointed challenge. It was another one that came together very quickly. I outlined it in a spiral notebook over the course of a couple hours, then delivered it without much polish.