It Really Does Matter

by Rev. Sara M. Holland on Sunday, May 28, 2017

When I was serving United Parish of Auburndale in Newton, Massachusetts in 2013, I
called my father while writing a sermon. I told him, “I’m nervous, Dad. I have only
recently realized I do not actually know much of anything about preaching except that I
like it and I know that it matters. I have never even taken a class on preaching and this
is a smart congregation.” My dad laughed, per usual. Though his attempt to give me
comfort was less than soothing, I later realized that it was extremely apropos. My dad
replied: “It is okay Sara, just do your best, you will be great [ 5 long seconds]; but now
remember, it really does matter.”

Talk about a tiny career crisis. . .  of course, I was fine. I do not remember what that
particular sermon was about, but I do remember that at this point in my sermon-writing
development, I often leaned into my own experience rather than remembering the
importance of scriptural hermeneutics. In other words, I can only pray that God’s
presence in my own journey came out that day.

My dad’s reply is still my inspiration for preaching today. My father was simply naming
grace and its paradox in preaching. “Just do your best, but remember, it really does
matter.” To me, this is the truth of both worship and preaching; and thank God they
almost always come together. We have all sat through sermons that left us thinking,
“Thank goodness there were songs to surround that!” or, “Praise Jesus it is time for
communion!” In other words, part of the grace our sermons have is that they have
worship to hold them with God’s truth. I say they really do matter, even the sermons that
are terrible. For the end of every sentence we drop because we are weary, we can be
rest assured God highlights, for some listener, the truth made clear in the sentence
before or after that we did ‘nail’ in delivery.

I am inspired knowing that for every way that I may mess up a sermon, God will let
something real come to the surface. I say this not to dismiss formation and
development, but rather to highlight that we, as ministers must take seriously the call to
be better, for the world and for the people, but mostly for God. While we may rest
assured in our call, our responsibility should not be taken lightly. My dear mentor in the
ordination process, Laura Ruth Jarrett, has told me I must ask, “Why? Why? Why?
Why? Why?” We ask, “If we should care about justice, then why?” This is because
God’s call to justice is clear throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. And we
go on to ask that why for each type of learner. As preachers we must figure out how we
can make this ‘because’ clear for different types of learners. For the one who is a visual
learner, for the one who is a tactile learner, etc etc; by asking why in five different ways,
we can rest more assured that each listener has found themselves in God’s word which
has been la id on our hearts. We must also ask, “If xyz, then how?” i.e. “If God is love,
then how?” or “If God created the world, then how?” Using both this why and how
approach, God will surely reveal God’s self, with grace. The grace exists as there is
room for each type of person to enter the sermon, wherever they may be.

As ministers, this may not help us rest easy. In fact, it sounds a bit like how we answer
children when they ask, “Why is the sky blue?” And we do everything we can to be
patient when we get similar questions from them throughout the day. It is difficult and
tiring to answer toddlers; preaching is difficult too! While the grace referenced here may
not comfort us, it may very well inspire us. It may breathe truth or wisdom into our work.
If we are not able to show folks why they are lovable, five times over, we must ask how
we are called to ministry. For me, grace is enough, even though sometimes it has given
little comfort.


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