Last night I was set to preach the Christmas Eve service, the English one I mean, the Spanish one is a given. Having 2 other sermons to prepare for the weekend/holy night, I decided to call on the reserves and use a sermon I preached last week in the Spanish service. I translated it and then had to do a good bit of reworking. I wrote, and rewrote and even had my dad and sister read through it and offer suggestions. (For the record, with my limited time and crazy schedule, coupled with my habits of procrastination, a full manuscript that's been edited is unheard of!) Anyway, I worked and worked on this sermon and after my dad and sister asked for clarification here and there it came out to be 7 pages (12 pt font double-spaced), which seemed loooong (my norm is about 5).
So, I went to worship and sat there looking out at some familiar faces of members and many unfamiliar faces of their family members and I started to get anxious. Last year I preached the family service as well and had a manuscript and read it, and it felt flat and I kept looking at these young folks (who, from what their parents/grandparents tell me, don't generally go to church) and seeing bored stares and wandering eyes and I hated that I was stuck up in our elevated pulpit and was stuck to my manuscript. And I hated the thought that they might not return to church until next year b/c this preacher botched it and bored them.
I was thinking about my looong sermon and got more and more anxious. During the pastoral prayer, which my Senior did, I got on my knees and prayed that God would give me the words, that I could be freed from the manuscript and led through the sermon as God would have it preached. I prayed for discernment and openness to preach the word, that God would highlight the parts of my manuscript God wanted said, and would erase the others from my mind.
After the prayer there was the scripture reading and then the anthem. I got more and more anxious. My palms got sweaty and I started to shake a little. (Keep in mind I am a pretty confident preacher. I've preached easily 100 sermons, even though I'm only a year and a half into my appointed ministry. I regularly, that's to say 52 Sundays out of 54, preach without a script, and just do my thing.) So the anxiety was a bit odd and it occured to me that this was like going on a date. You think about what to say, practice your stories and jokes, try and discern whether to take the comic slant or the serious slant. You wonder how the other person will react to and receive you. And while you may have done it 100 times before, there's something nerve racking about doing it in a new way with a new person. Honestly as I thought about the date comparison I was cracking myself up. I kept thinking, "God, is this really how you want me to start my Christmas Eve sermon?!?!" And it was. =)
So, I got up (sans pulpit) and shared this dating metaphor, ditched the script, and preached. When I let it happen like that, it's sometimes hard to look back and really remember what you said. And since I wasn't the one that had to hear it, I couldn't really tell you how it came off, whether my transitions were smooth or if anyone walked away with an understanding of the focus and function. Who knows.
When I sat down the date anxiety kicked right back in. Did I butcher that? Will they actually call (I mean, come) again? Was I a rambling idiot? Oh man.
The saving grace for my overly anxious ego were those people that greeted me after service and didn't just say, "Nice sermon pastor." But who said, "You know, you really gave me a new perspective." Or the grandson I know to be an up and coming comic who lauded it as a "good sermon". I mean, if someone who's immersed in entertainment, and more specifically comedy, thought it was a good sermon (oh yeah, and he's young...), then I can go to bed tonight hoping I didn't ruin Christmas by talking about the blood of the cross or Church forever for those gathered with us for worship. Okay, so "good sermon" is the standard statement, but he smiled wide when he said it...don't burst my bubble or my ego!