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Let the Word Speak to You First

Before trying to get the sermon together
by Ruth Sorenson-Prokosch | January 13, 2022

Week in and week out, preachers are called to proclaim a word of hope, grace, and a vision of the kingdom of God; nothing less than resurrection itself. It is a challenge in the best of times, but these days you know all too well that your hearers are scared, anxious, angry, frustrated, and exhausted. They are becoming hungrier for comfort in the midst of our communal struggles and for grace in the midst of their personal pains. 

What about those feelings that your congregation brings each week? Feelings of being scared, anxious, angry, frustrated, and exhausted? I know you are in the same boat. We all are to varying degrees. I know that in your own exhaustion you still keep your eyes and ears open for your next best sermon idea. You mine the scriptures, news articles, art, poetry, and conversations for sermon fodder—always keeping your congregation at the front of your mind and what will speak to them. You look ahead for what word you will bring to those who look to you for something, anything, to sustain them in 2020, 2021, 2022. Preaching is hard work, and all the more so now. I see you. I see the care and comfort you have given, all the pivots you have had to make, all the decisions you have been making while striving to bring a faithful word to those in the pews and on the screens. 

Fill Your Cup First

And so dear preacher, what I want to tell you from my seat as a spiritual director won’t be anything you haven’t heard before. As we enter into year three of this global pandemic it is my hope and prayer for you that you begin any sermon preparation by paying attention to how the word is speaking to your heart before you think about proclaiming the good news to others. Now more than ever I encourage you to engage with the word, not in search of sermon material, but to see how the Holy Spirit is breathing life into you at this moment. 

Whether you want to use the flight attendants’ instructions of putting your own oxygen mask on first, or the image of filling up your own cup before you can pour out for others, knowing you need to tend to your own needs is much easier said than done. So I offer you the reminder, and the permission, to take time for your own spiritual nourishment before thinking of how you will offer nourishment to your congregation. Your time focused inward might not lead to sermon material, but it will help keep you centered in God’s presence and grace.

How Else Is God Speaking?

Of course we turn to our scriptures, but God is not limited to one way of speaking. We experience the Holy through multiple and varied ways. Art, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, nature, dinner table conversations, music of all kinds may “interpret” Scripture to us when we have our hearts tuned to paying attention. 

Think back on your past. When has a movie, piece of music, or artwork opened up Scripture for you? Spend some time just soaking in art that connects you with God’s voice. 

Some questions to get you thinking: 

  • Where are you experiencing good news? 
  • Where are you seeing the Christ light?
  • Who showed you the face of God today?
  • What resonates within you that reminds you that you are a beloved child of God?
  • Is there a quote that speaks to you of your experience of God’s presence?

Physical Practices for Ruminating on Scripture:

  • Get out your colored pencils or pens and draw what words, colors, or images come to mind. Remember, this is just for you, not works of art to share with others. 
  • Write the word, phrase, story, or image on a notecard and talk it with you on a walk. If you were having a conversation with the text on your walk are you doing more of the talking or listening? 
  • Can you act out the feelings in this story? What sensations do you notice in your body when you read it? 
  • Get up out of your chair, sink into your body and wonder: Does this make you want to move, dance, curl up, or relax?

Reflection Prompts:

  • Can you sit with this text long enough to let it speak to you first? Notice what comes up, without judging how any of it will preach. 
  • What do you long to hear about the word this week? When you are in the pew, what do you come to worship hoping to hear/experience? 
  • Where do you feel comfort in this text? What bothers you about it? What do you want to say to God about this word?
  • Is the text calling you to do something? Is it calling you to a new posture toward God, yourself, or your neighbors?
  • What does your heart already know about this? What does it long to know more fully?

Your Turn

Try out any of these prompts that might work for you, setting aside a time early in the weeks when you are preaching, to spend time with the word before it has to become a sermon text.

About the Author

Ruth Sorenson-Prokosch

Ruth Sorenson-Prokosch is a spiritual director and pastor in the ELCA. She manages Front Porch Spiritual Direction. Ruth cares deeply about the intersections of faith, mental health, and self compassion. She approaches spiritual direction, pastoral care, and life, with a sense of holy curiosity. You can learn more about her work and read some of her writing at frontporchdirection.com.

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