The Often Overlooked Source for Sermon Inspiration (Or What Hiking in Indiana Taught Me About God's Glory)

 Photo by  Gary Rockett  on  Unsplash

Photo by Gary Rockett on Unsplash

My friend and colleague of blessed memory, the Rev'd Earl Whepley, told me that he felt like the most blessed of hikers because of the local hiking terrains he'd had the privilege enjoy throughout his life.

First he lived in the mountains of California.

Then on the East Coast shoreline. 

And now (eyes shining) Indianapolis!

Also an avid hiker, I looked at Earl dumbfounded when he spoke sincerely of Indy's hiking. After all, I'd rather followed in Earl's hiking bootsteps through my life.

After college, I moved to Utah specifically to hike in the mountains.

Then I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for seminary, so I, too, could wax rhapsodic about the breathtaking beauty of hiking mountains and shorelines.

But when I landed in Indy where I worked with Earl, well...

Let's just say Indy isn't exactly known for drawing the hiking enthusiast to its few...flat...trails.

"Sure," he said. "When I hiked in the mountains my eyes were drawn upward to majestic mountain peaks. When I hiked the shore, my eyes stayed at eye level to gaze on the ocean's horizon. But then I moved here where my eyes are drawn down, down to the ground. Now I pay attention to wildflowers, mushrooms, and mosses, and the almost endless variety of leaves the forest drops."

I hiked all my life appreciating God’s grandeur in the big and magnificent. But if I hadn’t moved here, I would have missed looking down to see just as much of God’s grandeur packed in the small.

He was right.

God's glory is revealed in the small as well as the big: in the sparrow and the heavens, the mustard seed and the mountains, the little children and the disciples.

And our preaching grows stronger when we learn to attune ourselves to the way God appears in the smallest details of the Bible's stories and text. 

Lectio for Sermon Prep Helps Us See God's Grandeur in the Small

Two Sundays ago I preached a sermon that hinged on one small pronoun: "himself."

As in, "Jesus himself appeared."

Other sermons have hinged on a word or detail equally as small.

For instance, where was the treasury box the widow put her coin in?

Where were nails obtained for crucifixions?

When Samuel thought he heard Eli's voice calling, where was Eli exactly?

A single word.

A single detail.

Each easily overlooked if our eyes are fixed on getting our sermons over with as quickly as our schedules "allow."

And yet, if we don't look down, on, and into the smallest of parts of the text, we can easily miss aspects of God's grandeur. We may preach the same big ideas our listeners have heard before (which are, albeit, important)—but we may miss the fullness and richness and texture of the meaning.

Part of BsP's preaching process is learning to tune in to the small. That's why our sermon prep process begins with a slow, close reading of the texts. 

And that's why every Monday at noon CST, BsP gathers on our public Facebook page to pray "the small."

We gather online to pray the coming Sunday's RCL Gospel lesson, taking our time to notice each word, each phrase, each detail.

We spend time in silence to let these small things take root in our spirits.

We pay attention to the words or images that resonate deeply, even if we're not sure why.

Over the course of our hour together, we write the details we notice in the community chat, and the variation is astonishing! One person picks up on one word, another notices a different one. Someone remarks on a phrase, while another asks a question.

So much inspiration comes from just one pericope in just one hour that there are more sermon ideas shared than any of us could preach.

And all because we took the time to look down and marvel at how much glory the little details contain.

Yes, God's glory is held in the big, sweeping story arcs of scripture. But it's also contained in the subplots, the minor characters, the details of setting, the turns of phrase.

Glory can be found in the ruts in the road, the murmuring of the crowd, and the person left holding the tunic of a martyr. 

Glory can be discerned in the use of a particular phrase or word or punctuation mark—or the omission of the same. 

Take time to appreciate the big and small in your sermons—to the glory of God. 

 

 

Want to practice paying attention to the small?

We'd love to have you join us for Monday's Live Lunch-Hour Lectio. Lend your voice to the group by sharing what sparked your own curiosity while enjoying the insights of others. Simply head to BsP's Facebook page a few minutes before noon CST for instructions to join the discussion.

Can't join us live? You can always watch the recording later from the Facebook page.

Moreover, if you find it useful to engage in this slow, prayer-filled process to engage the Gospel, you'll probably appreciate the next four days of BsP's 5-day lectio divina process, adapted for sermon prep. While practicing scholarly integrity, we let the text and our study work in us through the week so the sermon message emerges of its own accord.

Bonus: with this process, the sermon gets done on time.

For instance, one member of The BsP Collective said after Thursday's Oratio session (held for Collective Members):

Oratio was great today... I feel like I’ve got my free time Friday back thanks to the discipline, creativity, and inspiring colleagues. A very productive hour! --Dina vK.

"God things" do come in small packages!

P.S. If you're interested in The Collective, we encourage you to join now to secure our lifetime launch price, available for just a limited time! Find God's glory in the small, get inspired by colleagues, and finish your sermon ahead of time. Don't wait!