Once, when going through a prolonged depression, I would mutter, “preaching is no job for a grown man (or woman).”
Even when not depressed, I have at times quietly disparaged the profession I practice. My favorite critique is from a colleague who, when hearing clergy whine about Holy Week or the occasional onslaught of multiple pastoral crises, “try working in an Emergency Room why don’t you?”
The fog has cleared somewhat and these days I marvel at the intricate constellation of relationships that create the ecosystem I am privileged to inhabit. Like most creatures and events that are transformative in the way of holiness, it is impossible to measure or quantify the artful rendering of a fortunately gathered spiritual community and priest. It is part volition, part serendipity, part skill, and surely it is part dumb luck. It must also have to do with the particular qualities and characteristics of the minister in combination with those of the community. I am certain it is not something that is trainable except regarding the most surface and course elements.
I now see that preaching in particular, out the many aspects of an ordained minister’s activities, is powerfully beyond the grip of the preacher herself or himself.
For those who frequent this website, this is old news. The burning bush of preaching is not something I have only recently stumbled upon, but it does fade into the background now and again and I forget. It is like living among the Green Mountains and forgetting their exquisite beauty even though surrounded by it; or living at the ocean, when its rhythmic sound that heals the visitor recedes into the ordinary.
The sacred juju I am referring to is never the result of a single sermon, and that is because it is not generated by content. It grows or not, in the soil of relationship. The powerful mystery that changes lives as a result of preaching does not take place because of the preacher but because of the combination of preacher, community, sense of safety and sacredness among those gathered for worship over time, and what the individual brings into those moments as well. It is intricate and tender even though it calls for and requires toughness and elasticity.
As I prepared my last sermons in Vermont, and now as I prepare for a first sermon in New York, I sometimes have felt wrapped in a cloud of peaceful knowing. In leaving, where the tenderness and intimacy is so palpable as to be indescribable; and in entering, where the unknown and absence of relationship is pervasive; knowing that it is about so much more than what is said and the limited offering of any moment or preacher, is liberating.
Just now, as I continue to cogitate on the readings for this Sunday and the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I am surrounded by the voices of past whispers of gratitude from those with whom I have shared a preaching relationship. They hold me up and comfort me, and they also agitate my awareness and wakefulness to the privilege of this relationship and holy ground.