Preparing for Easter

Preparing for Easter

Though I’d already chosen the text and title for my Easter 2018 sermon, I really started working on the content of the message earlier today.

If you don’t preach, you might be surprised to learn that writing sermons for Easter and Christmas Eve are very difficult.  Why?  Everybody already knows the stories.  Even if you’ve never walked into a church before, Easter and Christmas are still likely to be stories you have some degree of familiarity with.  And, for many, attending an Easter service is little more than a holiday tradition.

Undeniably, it’s a great story!  In fact, it’s the greatest story we have to tell!  But, it’s so familiar.

I’ve preached at least 20 different Easter messages, and never the same one twice.  Each time, I’ve tried to find a new way to tell the same story of Jesus beating death, or to find a new meaning or a new application.  I’ve often looked for a new and novel angle – some years more successfully than others.

But, this Easter is different.  No novelty needed this year.  This Easter follows a Lent that began with a horrific Ash Wednesday tragedy – the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Though I sense all of us, in this community, are finding ways to return to “normal,” the tragedy is still in the daily news, and in some conversation, everyday.  You see “MSD Strong” t-shirts everywhere.  This Saturday, March 24th, many will be marching in this community and others, seeking change in our gun laws.  My point?  The tragedy is still on our minds, and the shadow of this tragedy still looms large over this community, and beyond.

As I am preparing this Easter sermon, I’m wondering…

  • What does this very old story have to say to this very current event?
  • What does the resurrection of Christ mean, not just theologically, but pastorally and practically, for those still struggling?
  • In the face of so much death and suffering, how do I speak of Christ defeating death?
  • How do we balance the sorrow we still feel, with the joyful celebration of Easter?
  • How do we find Easter hope, when it still feels like Good Friday?
  • What does it mean for Christians, who live in Coral Springs and Parkland, to be Easter people?
  • What do I have to say about Christ’s resurrection, to these people, at this moment, that I KNOW is true.

In last year’s Easter sermon, Pope Francis said, “The Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity.”  Undoubtedly, many who hear my Easter message will have “buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity,” because of this specific tragedy, not to mention all of the other challenges and difficulties we all face every day.

I’m not quite sure how I will say it, yet.  But, Pope Francis’ statement captures the message I want to convey.  Yes, our hopes and dreams may feel buried right now.  In some cases, literally.  For many, it may feel like Good Friday for a long time.  But, Easter always follows Good Friday, and it always will.

Easter always has the final word.  There’s hope in that.

Now, back to sermon writing.

Preaching to Myself…

Preaching to Myself…

I start with an outline.

Then, I write a full sermon manuscript of what I plan to say.

Then, I condense the manuscript to notes that I will actually preach from.

On Sunday mornings, I get up and 5:00 am, and read my manuscript twice – sometimes out loud.  At 6:30 am, using my notes, I practice my sermon, out loud, at least twice.

Typically, I preach at three different services on Sunday mornings.

Now that I have this blog, I will post my sermon manuscript every week, which requires that I read it again and edit it according to what I actually said, or may have left out. My sermons do tend to “evolve” – hopefully improving… but not necessarily.

By the time I post a sermon manuscript, I have read it or said it at least eleven times.

Occasionally, on Sunday afternoons, Kelly (my wife) will ask me, “Did you listen to your sermon this morning?”  Yep!  Eleven times!  But, that’s not exactly what she means.

She knows me better than anyone.  She knows my struggles.  She knows that, sometimes, the things I preach with conviction to others, I sometimes struggle to accept for myself.

She asked me yesterday, dang it.

I preached, yesterday, that there’s no brokenness that Jesus cannot heal and restore.  I DO believe that.  I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t.  I’ve seen God do it.  But, truthfully, after so many years of living with chronic pain – which has been particularly awful recently – I get discouraged.  VERY discouraged.  The discouragement itself, apart from the physical pain, is also painful.  Even as I write this, I’m feeling pretty bad.

Do I BELIEVE God can heal my pain and discouragement?  Yes.  Of course.  Do I think he will?  Well…

I realize that sounds hypocritical.  I say I believe it, but do I really?  And, I know that sounds like I lack faith.  Maybe I do, at least as far as my own struggles are concerned.  I’m a preacher.  But, I am a VERY human preacher.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was approached by a father, whose son was tormented by a demon.  The father said to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  To which Jesus replied, ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

I love the father’s response – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Yes, I DO listen to my own sermons – over, and over, and over.  I swear, I will never preach anything that I don’t believe with my whole heart.  But, listening isn’t always the same LISTENING!  Listening isn’t the same is believing.

I swear, I will also never preach that faith and hope and believing are easy.

“I do believe – please, Jesus – help me overcome my unbelief!”

(I’m sure some who read this will be concerned about me.  I’m ok.  Really.  I am.  No cause for alarm.  I’ve lived with pain for a long time, and life goes on.  I get up everyday, and do the best that I can.  There’s no need to worry about me, or ask me, “How are you feeling?”  And, as much as I appreciate the gesture, I’m not asking advice about medicine, supplements, treatments, etc.  I’ve tried EVERYTHING!  This isn’t a cry for help – really!  I’m not looking for sympathy.  This is just a preacher being honest!  I hope that’s ok.)