Picasso and me


“How long does it take you to write a sermon?” a member of the church asks.

“About 50 years,” I say.

“No, no, no,” the person says, “how long does it actually take you to write it out – or whatever you do?”

No matter how often I answer this question, I never seem to get it right for the person who asks.  Putting a sermon together takes a long time, a lot longer than most people realize.

Reminds me of the story about Picasso who was recognized at a restaurant by another patron who then asked for the artist’s autograph.  Picasso obliged, according to the story, and wrote his name on a napkin using those famous block letters.

Handing it to the autograph seeker, Picasso mischievously said, “That’ll be a million dollars (or whatever the equivalent would have been in Spanish pesetas).”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the autograph seeker, “it only took you a couple of seconds.”

“Wrong,” said Picasso, “it took me 50 years.”

The point Picasso and I would like to make is that great art (or the humble sermon) takes time – a lot more than you might imagine.  A lot of life experiences, a lot of bumps and bruises, a lot of hurt, joy, and painful life lessons are involved in the creation of a sermon.

When I can bring myself to do it, which isn’t often, reading a sermon from early in my ministry is a painful experience.  Why?  Because I knew so little.  I think I was even aware at the time that I had a lot to learn.

What’s the sweet spot for life experience?  In other words, how much is enough – and when do we reach the point at the other end of life that no one much cares what our life experience was like?  I don’t know.

Maybe a better question is this: Can you take what you’ve learned along the way and translate it into something meaningful and intelligible to other people?  Can you speak from experience in such a way that it actually helps another human being?

I think that’s the gift of preaching.  It’s taking what we know to be true – not what we’ve learned by reading a book, but from living our lives – and translating it into something that engages the imagination of other people.

How long does that take?

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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5 Responses to Picasso and me

  1. Barbara Keith April 10, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    No matter “how long it takes for you to write a sermon” keep “doing what you are doing” because you always “touch our hearts and our minds” … With an open mind WE WILL LEARN SOMETHING SPECIAL from each and every message you share!

  2. Lizzy April 10, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    I really enjoyed this post, for several reasons.

    I am not surprised that you gave an obscure, non-straight-forward answer to the question “how long does it take you to write a sermon?” The obvious answer to me would have been “about 5-6 hours on friday, with another hour or two on saturday to tweak it.”

    Reminds me of when I’d ask you what your sermon would be about on Sunday, and you would respond, “Something about Jesus.” Or when I’d ask you about when you were little, and you’d respond “I was never little.” Your answers were almost always funny and unexpected.

    But I think this quality is in part what makes you such an effective preacher- you don’t give obvious answers to questions. You give thoughtful answers that make people think beyond the obvious. In addition to relating to peoples lives, you tie small, seemingly mundane details into the bigger picture, and help your listeners to not miss the forest for the trees. And I really appreciate that!

    • Doug April 10, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Lizzy, you’re one person who knows the answer to this question in chronological terms, having lived with it for so many years, so thanks for spilling the beans on that. As for the rest of your response, you’re terrific! I wince a little about all the times I would say to you, “something about Jesus,” but aside from the bad joke, I really meant it. I wanted each sermon to be “something about Jesus.” (Now get back to your studies!)

  3. Georgia Hamilton April 10, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Doug, I loved Lizz’s reply as much as I appreciated your blog. This is true about so much of life, isn’t it? No one can know the personal thought, effort, and often sweat and tears that go into a new project, or sermon! I so enjoy reading your thoughts.

  4. Brian Paulson May 1, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Good one, Doug!

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