Current events drive inspiration
The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:
I had finished my sermon preparations when I sat down to dinner Saturday night. Picking up the day’s New York Times, I began to read the front page. There was a story about Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was brutally murdered in Wyoming. Immediately, I realized I would be writing a different sermon for the next morning.
The Gospel text for that Sunday was the story of the Good Samaritan, about a man who was beaten and left for dead, who was cared for by a stranger. The second reading was St. Paul’s great poem on love from I Corinthians 13. Both offered tremendous insight into a Christian response to the horror of this young man’s death.
The inspiration for a sermon may be as immediate as the news of that day or as timeless as the ancient wisdom of the sacred texts. In many Christian traditions, there are four readings assigned for each Sunday, and in reviewing these texts, I look for themes that may speak to a need, concern or question within our congregation or community. At times, I may plan a series of sermons that have a theme or follow a storyline through several chapters of the Bible. And there are some Sundays where events in the world — the outbreak of war, the collapse of the economic markets, the inauguration of a new president — that compel theological and biblical reflection.
In planning my preaching, I seek to vary the topic and style, drawing insight from multiple sources, all with the hope that each week I might present to the congregation a message which is thoughtful, timely and useful for navigating the journey of faith in a complex world.
— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at email@example.com
Scriptures tell their own tales
The Rev. Joanna Harader, pastor, Peace Mennonite Church, 615 Lincoln St.:
I love to preach. It is an honor to stand behind the pulpit and see the gathered community. These people could be sleeping. They could be at Munchers eating chocolate croissants. They could be walking in the woods. But they are at church, sitting on metal chairs, paying attention to me.
Now, I do not believe that sermons are the focus of worship. God is the focus of worship. I do, however, consider my sermons an important part of worship. Through my sermons, I address issues of Christian education, pastoral care, spiritual guidance ... even institutional health.
So it would be tempting to choose my sermon topics based on what I think folks need to hear. Are people working too hard? Preach on Sabbath. Are people not working hard enough? Preach on sloth. Does the church need more money? Preach on tithing.
But that is not how I choose my topics. Actually, I don’t choose sermon topics at all. I choose Scripture passages. I start with the Scripture because I believe my job is to interpret the word of God for the life of the people — not to simply give the people good advice and pull in a few Bible quotes to back it up.
So how do I choose Scriptures? Sometimes we use the Revised Common Lectionary, and (I’m just being honest here) I choose whichever of the Scriptures is most interesting to me. Sometimes the worship committee selects a focus. For Lent this year, the sermons are on the surprising Jesus. I am preaching on parts of the Jesus story that I usually avoid.
In a sense, the Scripture then chooses the topic. I start with the Scripture and see where it takes me. I often end up in surprising places.
— Send e-mail to Joanna Harader at firstname.lastname@example.org