I love that my friend Bill Coates challenged us (ministers) to explore our first sermons.
What a marvelous opportunity to sit back and remember the days when I bumbled around aimlessly hoping someone would snatch something out of the random words flying around the room. In other words, it made me think of last Sunday when I preached at Grace Episcopal Church.
Preaching has always been a nerve-wracking experience for me. I use humor a lot to lighten myself as much as anyone else, since giving sermons terrifies me. Because ... how dare I stand there and speak of God! Who am I to lead a congregation of people? I know they see straight through me.
I often think of the poet and writer Annie Dillard and her image of ushers giving out crash helmets and lashing folks to the pews on Sunday morning as we dare to encounter the almighty. How lightly I take the utter immensity of what we encounter, not just on Sundays, but in all of life. Do I pause long enough to consider what it means that God breathes into each person I meet? If I’m honest, no. Oh, the work I have to do.
I think of my first sermon at Columbia Seminary in Decatur. It was recorded so each preacher could review it with the professor — a man who should have received a Nobel Prize for patience and tact. If I were him, these recordings would have been the featured entertainment at Thanksgiving dinner, but he is a better Christian than I am.
My sermon was a reflection on how we are called to embody God’s love in the world. I used a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, aka Mother Teresa, an Albanian Roman Catholic nun and missionary.
No wonder I became a priest to the Episcopal Church. The signs were everywhere.
As I write this article, I am holding the little book I used for that sermon. Amazingly, it still has the quotation marked.
“We all have a duty to serve God where we are called to do so. I feel called to serve individuals, to love each human being ... If others are convinced that God wants them to change social structures, that is a matter for them to take up with God.”
When I went to view my video, many thoughts swirled around my head.
First, I wondered why I scratched the top of my head the entire time I spoke — the entire time.
Secondly, I had no idea my Southern accent was that thick. How can anyone understand a single word I say?
But once I settled down and let the experience soak in, I had a strange feeling. While the feeling was nowhere near “comfort,” there was a familiarity, a sense of being where I was supposed to be. I wondered what might happen if I yielded to God’s grace rather than my own fear.
I have come to understand this as a “call,” what the tradition of the church understands as a vocation. Vocare, to call forth. I am still exploring the strange little corners of my vocation. How about you?