Mary Beth Writes

This is what it’s like to preach if you hardly ever do it.

This coming Sunday (2/25/18) I am preaching in my own church, United Universalist Unitarian at 506 N. Washington in Waukesha, at 10:30. You are very welcome to attend. 

My sermon is “645 Years Later / Julian of Norwich and the Spiritual Art of Perseverance.”

I have been working on this sermon a little and then a lot for the past several weeks.  It is a peculiar adventure to invent a sermon topic, write the sermon, and then preach it. Women and men who do this every week have my utmost respect - and disbelief.

I advise it in much the same way I advise wilderness camping without wilderness camping skills. You can do it, but prepare to be exhausted.  There is the possibility of a snake right behind you, a mid-sized bear a half mile up ahead on the right, or a charming but deadly heresy twinkling in that puddle.  You have to try to stay focused.

So the first thing is finding a topic and giving it a Sermon Title.  This is because – Church Newsletter.  It is an odd challenge to know what you want to say BEFORE you start working on what you want to say. If you are me, you will have a great title and several weeks later when you need to really write the thing, you will be amazed that you actually thought there was anything there there. 

Blessedly, hardly anyone but the church secretary remembers what a church newsletter says.  Also blessedly, I’ve never met a church secretary who wasn’t smart as blazes, but they don’t broadcast what they know.

Next, you are probably not the most distracted sermon-writer ever, but you might be close. Maybe the Divine Almighty really wanted you to read eight pages of quotes by Mark Twain and then that cool essay about Manicheism in Jane Austen and - who knew you could still find most of the Calvin and Hobbes strips online? 

What I’m saying is that all writing requires amazing amounts of not surfing the internet – and writing a sermon is worse than that. 

Then again, if Jonathan Edwards had a smartphone, maybe our heritage could have been “Sinners in the Hands of a God Who, By the Looks of It, has a Marvelous Sense of Humor and Some Mighty Intrepid Love.”  ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was a sermon  preached by Edwards in 1741. He preached a terrifying Hell thus helping to tumble the American colonies into the Great Awakening of c. 1730–1755. To this day way too many Americans assume religion is about avoiding hell, instead of being welcomed into love, service, and community. Edwards gets a lot of credit for this craziness.)

So you write the thing, hopefully read it over enough to get it up to or down to about 12-17 minutes – and suddenly it’s Sunday morning.  Don’t eat much breakfast … and one cup of coffee is plenty, kids. If you hardly ever do this – or even if you do it every week – your insides are in Fright, Fight, and Flight mode - no matter how often you remind yourself these are just church-going humans, generally some of the nicest people on earth. 

Finally, there you are, standing somewhere in the vicinity of a pulpit. You start to talk, or read your script, of touch your points on your notecards, and you are doing it. You are preaching.

And even though it is so-so-so weird, it is also one of the coolest things I know. It’s like love out-loud.  You hope what you have to say invites those people out there to be brave and to have hope. You tell old stories they know, and the new ones only you knew but you want to share them now. You haul in poetry and promises written 3000 years ago and maybe parts of a rap you heard on YouTube in the past month.  You make points and describe scenes and invite people to seriously consider and respect their own lives and challenges.

It is the best thinking you have this week. You say it the best you can. You trust the moment. Because even though you have been circling this sermon for weeks, it no longer belongs to just you; it belongs to all of you in that sanctuary. Spirit, light, words. Together all of you make whatever is going to happen, happen. It is building an invisible ship and then sailing into the coming week on it.

About an hour later the hoopla and coffee is kaput. You go home. You eat a giant lunch and fall sleep all afternoon.





I totally will leave the preaching up to you. I can be your cheer leader. Love out loud - made me laugh. I’ll keep my love silent. You and what you do are awesome.

I appreciate your awe (hah).. since of all the humans I know, you and G knew me when I did this the FIRST time around...

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