This week I will be attending an annual sermon planning event near Asheville, NC, where five of my closest colleagues and I will try to map out our preaching for an entire year. Three years ago we decided to call this event “Homipalooza,” from Homiletics (the art of preaching) and Palooza (which is apparently some kind of crazy party). Imagine six Baptist preachers sitting around in shorts and T-shirts planning their preaching for a year and any notion of crazy partying will quickly fade. There are lots of books involved, manilla folders, laptop computers, endless discussions, theological debates, and abundant snacks (OK, maybe it is a party). If we do it well, at the end of the week we will each come away with a three-ring binder full of handouts and a few good ideas for every Sunday of the year. Even if we don’t do it well, we will have had some time to talk about our work with people who understand it, who know what it’s like to try to meet a long list of expectations each week (usually our own) and still find time to write a sermon. I’m hoping that in this week of sermon planning I will still be able to find some of that kind of time, and that I will come back to Richmond inspired and ready to preach.
Before I go, let me leave you with this answer to the question someone asked me last week: “How do you make a sermon?”
1 juicy passage of Scripture, ancient but somehow still fresh
2 hours of writing down every thought that comes into my head
3 thoughtful friends or colleagues to talk it over with
4 good commentaries to answer most of my questions
Mix ingredients together and let them simmer on the back burner for three days, stirring occasionally. Add some of the illustrations and anecdotes that have come to mind in those three days (but be careful not to use all of them). Lift the lid from time to time and inhale to see if there’s anything in there that smells like a sermon. Season to taste.
In an ideal world you would simply serve the sermon up like stew at that point, and everyone would eat and be satisfied. In the real world it is only after the sermon has simmered on the back burner for a few days that I’m ready to put my thoughts into some kind of order, and only after I’ve put them in order that I’m ready to put them into words. For me, that’s the most time-consuming part of the process. I spend most of the day Saturday writing and re-writing in an effort to get it just right. But when Sunday comes I serve up what I’ve made in the hope that it will nourish and sustain the people who have come to hear it, and when it does I’m as grateful as your mother used to be when you looked up from your empty plate after Sunday dinner and said,