The definition of insanity (often attributed to Albert Einstein) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Does that describe preaching?
Over coffee, a preacher recently described to me the Sunday letdown. He leaves the church worship service feeling energized and jazzed about his preaching, but by 4:00 his mood sinks:
"I have to do this all over again next week, and for what? Does preaching make any difference?"
We preach week after week but often see few results. The world's problems only seem to be getting worse. So when the only feedback most of us receive is the obligatory "good sermon" from our parishioners week after week, we may wonder if we're just banging our heads against walls.
What does our preaching accomplish? Is our preaching "insane?"
If we focus on the seeming "groundhog day" of sermon prep week after week, or on outcomes, or the dire state of our world, we may be tempted to lose heart. We may be tempted to step away from the very call God has placed on our lives as preachers:
- to preach a single message of good news each week
- to testify to the places we see the divine born into the mangers of this world
- to describe the agony of death, the painful hope of grieving and waiting, and the resplendent glory of resurrection
So how do we keep preaching sane? Consider these two perspectives.
The Astronaut & A Thousand Screws
I watched a documentary about the astronauts who repaired the Hubble Space Telescope mirror. The astronaut needed to do a space walk to to the telescope where, to his surprise and dismay, he discovered countless screws that had to be manipulated: one. screw. at. a. time.
It took him hours to accomplish the job, following the same boring, meticulous procedure for every single screw.
When asked how he maintained his composure and sanity, he replied that he shifted his mind into a Zen-like state: work the problem as if each screw were the only screw in the universe in which he floated.
If he had counted them down or looked ahead to all the screws that remained, he would have despaired.
Instead, he stayed present to the one screw in front of him—only the one screw necessary...only the one screw necessary...only the one screw necessary—until he finished the job.
Our Christian spiritual tradition has many teachers who describe serenity in the presence of God as a state where we, too, stay present to the one thing necessary.
This includes sermons.
Without looking ahead to the countless sermons we have left to preach, without assessing the impact (or lack thereof) of sermons we've already preached, we stay present to today's task:
Preach the one sermon God asks us to preach.
Attend only to the one sermon necessary for today.
The Little Flower & Her Little Way
Thérèse de Lisieux was a Carmelite nun who died at the age of 24 in 1897. During her few years in the monastery she came to understand what she might accomplish for God.
"In her quest for sanctity, she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts, or great deeds, in order to express her love of God. She wrote: 'Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.'"
Such was Thérèse de Lisieux's simple devotion to God that she was nicknamed "The Little Flower" and her description of this path to holiness called "The Little Way."
I don't hear many preachers talk about this idea, perhaps because it feels overly sentimental or too personal, but it's an important question for us.
How do you express your love for God?
Few of us are called to accomplish heroic deeds, and if we look through Scripture, we see that few of God's beloved accomplished "great" feats of glory.
Most participated in the daily grind and drudgery of ordinary life but dedicated their ordinary life to God.
Mary, Mother of God, spent years raising a child—cleaning, washing, feeding, and fretting over her child's safety.
Though Jesus' future was promised to be grand and glorious, there was little about the daily demands of child-rearing that could be described as "grand" or "glorious."
Rather than look for the grand, glorious, or heroic effects of preaching, then, perhaps we can follow the example of Thérèse:
We can express our love of God through the "Little Way": the unglamorous, often challenging, Sometimes Tedious process of finding words that illuminate the Gospel.
Like the astronaut, we can put our heads down and work diligently at the single task at hand: to discern, craft, and offer our words to the glory of God for this one sermon.
In this light, preaching is the most sane thing in the world to do.
The Sanity of Preaching
Einstein not only (supposedly) wrote the definition of "insanity," he also discovered E=mc^2.
This famous equation does not describe an effect of light, energy, and mass. It describes their relationship.
When we discover that preaching = love x words x (Spirit squared), we learn that we preach not to create an effect. Rather, our preaching simply describes the relationship between us, the Spirit, love, and language.
An astronaut and a little flower tell us there doesn't have to be a 4 PM let-down week after week if we are sane enough to show our love for God by preaching our "little way."
Holy Week & Easter Sermon Boot Camps
As you look at your Holy Week and Easter Week calendar, are you wondering when you'll ever get your sermon(s!) done?
Join one or both of our week-long boot camps and enjoy peace of mind, knowing your sermon prep is scheduled and your sermon will be written in good company and finished by Friday.
Each week-long camp meets one hour/day online to guide your sermon prep in real time. You'll work with a coach alongside a small group of participants to apply BsP's guiding principles to your work. By the end, you'll not only finish your sermon, you'll also learn a new process you can apply every week to preach soul-filled sermons that connect.
- Holy Week Camp: March 19-23, 3:00 p.m. EST
- Easter Camp: March 26-29 (ends Thursday so you're done with your sermon by Good Friday), 3:00 p.m. EST