“I don’t like to talk about myself in sermons,” a preacher told me recently. I’ve heard that a lot from pastors. There’s a sense that we are there to present the word of God, to talk about what commentators and theologians say about the Scripture, but not to focus a spotlight on ourselves. I respect that idea, but I don’t practice it myself. Because I don’t think it’s possible to separate myself from preaching.
I’m all over my sermons. Is it because I’m an ego-maniacal exhibitionist? Not really. Those who know me well (well…my husband) can tell you just how many secrets I keep neatly wrapped up only for myself. You wouldn’t know it if you heard me preach every Sunday, but my self-disclosure boundaries are actually pretty high. I don’t talk about personal things publicly unless I’ve adequately dealt with the event emotionally and spiritually, and I’ve gotten the appropriate blessing from the other people involved.
Perhaps the reason I come to preaching from a little different angle has to do with a shift in interpretation in general. There was a thought that we could cross over a bridge–a hermeneutical bridge–and transport ourselves into the first century. We could learn all of the customs and the traditions of Jesus and the disciples. We could understand the author’s intent, and then we could present that intent to our congregations.
This worked for a really long time. Especially since the writers of most of our commentaries were academics–and European white males.
But then, we began to hear disparate notes. And a chord began to form when women and ethnic minorities began to crowd the halls of academia, pointing out the neglected texts of terror and wrestling with the scriptures in new ways.
The liberationist movement began base communities asking people–all kinds of people–cleaning women, squatters, children, “What does this mean to you?” Then, women and so many others who were on the outside margins of society began to stand in the pulpits and proclaim what the parables, poetry and prophecy meant to them, in their particular circumstance.
And even though all of these people were speaking all along, we began to listen to each other. Intently. As we did, a great symphony arose from Christendom. We understood these powerful words in the contexts of different people, and we realized that no one ever really knew the author’s intent completely. No one ever made it over that bridge without dragging a whole lot of baggage with them.
As preachers, we read texts through our own eyes–our socioeconomic background, our educational experience, our family relationships, our heartaches, and our triumphs. And so, as I prepare my sermons for Sunday morning, I can’t separate myself from the Scripture. I’m right in there. I have a messy relationship with all of those words.
And I don’t try to separate myself. I try to be acutely aware of my location in the text, and it’s location within me. I begin to think about how it resonates, inspires, angers, or irritates me.
When I read about Mary giving birth to Jesus I can’t ever forget that good Saturday when I became a mom, and I can’t help but realize that all of my life, as many times as I heard that story echo from a pulpit, I had never heard it coming out of a mother’s mouth.
And so, I tell the stories, the stories of the scriptures along with my own stories, with all the sights, smells, and emotions. Not because I’m a very open person, but because I hope that my particular context might help someone else. That the small details of my particular narrative might somehow tap into the great meta-narrative that forms us as people. Because I hope that I can add a note to that symphony. A note that resonates inside of someone else, and allows them to be a part of it.
So, what about you? Do you ever tell personal stories? Why or why not? What works for you in the pulpit? What inspires you when you hear others preach?
the photo’s by parasol