If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9
It’s a funny thing, this preaching life.
I didn’t want it when I started. I resisted as much as I have resisted anything in my life. I was willing to do just about anything but getting up in front of a group of people on Sunday morning.
To make matters worse, I wasn’t particularly promising with my first effort. There was the preaching class at seminary, of course, which was bad enough, but there was also that first church where I preached. If some people resigned their memberships that day when I preached my first sermon, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
In an act of grace and compassion, however, my supervisor never told me. I learned later, several years later, that people looked around when I was finished and wondered, “What was that?” Not disapproval so much as disbelief. They weren’t even sure it was a sermon.
I clearly had a long way to go.
But I kept at it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was God’s determination to have me, the way God has been determined down through the centuries to have countless others like me.
Whatever it was, I made myself do it. For a number of years I remember arriving at the church on Sunday mornings before dawn to preach my sermon over and over to an empty sanctuary. Getting there before the custodian was always a challenge, but I did it. I can’t think of anything in my life I’ve ever been so determined to do.
Now, more than 30 years have passed, and – strangely, oddly – I can’t imagine another life for myself. This way of life I resisted for so long has become so much a part of me that I actually look forward to it each week. I miss it when I don’t do it. I squirm uncomfortably when I have to listen to others do it – not because they’re bad, but because I feel deep inside as though I should be doing it.
On Saturday mornings, when I feel as though the next day’s sermon will finally preach, I do a fist pump and let out a yell, the way an athlete would who scored the winning goal or who broke the tape at the end of a marathon. Even the dog doesn’t jump anymore when I do it.
But I do it out of a sense of joy and satisfaction and gratitude. What a privileged life.
(Photo: That’s the medieval fortress on the banks of Lake Geneva near Montreux known as Chateau de Chillon. I was there Monday, and – yes – it’s that beautiful.)