The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Ministers

trashI thought I had Sunday’s sermon all wrapped up. 

I started early—on Monday afternoon—sitting in Starbucks with a tall coffee, reading over the text I had chosen from Revelation 21 and taking copious notes.  By the time I got to my lectionary study group on Tuesday morning I was overflowing with ideas.  I looked at the commentaries on Tuesday afternoon and talked with my worship planning team about how all this might come together.  I was excited.  I followed up with further study on Wednesday and then did what I usually do on Thursday, my day off, which is to let all those ideas simmer on the back burner of my brain, hoping that late in the afternoon an “Aha!” will come to me—an interesting way to preach that particular text.

That didn’t really happen for me on Thursday, and I ran out of time to draft an outline on Friday, which is something I usually try to do.  So, on Saturday morning I sat down with my laptop at the kitchen table and began to write.  By five o’clock that evening I had written nearly eight pages, double-spaced, which is more than enough for a sermon.  But when I sat down in front of the fireplace later to edit what I had written (and give out candy to the occasional trick-or-treater) I didn’t like it at all.  It looked like three different ideas that didn’t really hold together as one sermon.  I began to strike out whole sentences, and then paragraphs, and by 10:30 last night I was down to only the introduction of the sermon, which I liked better than anything else I had written.

So, I did what I usually do in a situation like that.  I went to bed and asked the Holy Spirit to come whisper in my ear during the night and tell me how to salvage the sermon.  When I woke up at five I had some ideas about how to do that.  I started jotting down fresh outlines and trying the words out loud while the clock kept ticking toward time to go.  Because I had set the clock back the night before I had an extra hour, but it still wasn’t enough.  I showered and dressed and hurried out the door into the rain with some radically revised pages in my hand and very little idea what would actually come out of my mouth when I began to preach.

I’m not writing this so that those of you who heard the sermon will console me with your comments.  I just wanted you to know what it’s like to be the preacher on those weeks when things don’t come together in the way you had hoped.  After a day like today I’m always grateful that I got through, and that when I opened my mouth some words came out (I hope they were good and even more than that I hope they were God’s), and I’m grateful that the people of God are usually willing to give the preacher another chance next week.  It makes me all the more eager to get an early start.

So, as darkness falls over the city of Richmond on this Sunday evening, I’m thinking ahead to next Sunday’s sermon, and already starting to take notes…

8 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Ministers

  1. I often wonder what you are thinking about as you sit on the pulpit waiting your turn on Sundays. Are you listening and enjoying the singing, etc. or are you “waiting for the Holy Spirit” to whisper in your ear to enhance your prepared sermon. Perhaps you are thinking about Sunday lunch plans or thinking about something that happened during the week. This may be a great topic for one of your future sermons . . . what is going on in your mind before the sermon begins! Please let us know what you are thinking about.

  2. When things go south:) 100 years ago when I was serving my apprenticeship under Irvin Netcott we were laying brick at the Hub at Iowa State University campus. The only time I rcall my father ever say, “I should have read the prints.” Asuming one knows after many years of experience can lead to a humbling experience:) I hope you are smiling! Steve

  3. Dr. Somerville,
    I’ve lived long enough to have heard plenty-eleven sermons. Though I didn’t hear yours on Sunday, I’ve heard several others, and the truth is that your sermons even on what you would claim as a bad day are better than most on a great day.
    Thanks for that.

  4. I am reminded of the time years ago in another church when Bill took his Sunday School outline (he always prepares a detailed outline of his lesson to hand out in class) to the church office to duplicate. Some of the copies did not turn out well, so he put them in the trash can and started over. In worship that morning, the pastor got up to preach and I thought, “I’ve heard this before!” I opened my Bible and pulled out Bill’s lesson outline. The pastor preached it word for word. Apparently the Holy Spirit used Bill’s lesson to whisper in the pastor’s ear.

    When all else fails, check out the trash cans in the church office! Bill may have left something there for you!

  5. And that proves the old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s fortune!! Glad it was the church’s trash can. It reminds me of our Salvation Army’s slogan, “DOING THE MOST GOOD.”

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