My Worst Sermon


I must begin today with a disclaimer.  A few of my congregants regularly read this blog and might be surprised at my upcoming honesty.  However, I am only admitting what they all ready know.  In addition, my last blog post was about personal repentance.  I am still convicted by it, so thought I should be a bit confessional.  So here goes:

Sunday’s sermon went very poorly.

In fact, it was the worst sermon one can preach, not because it wasn’t any good but because it was almost good.  It wasn’t one of those sermons I worked really hard on only to have it fall flat.  It wasn’t an okay sermon that just couldn’t transcend the realm of greatness.  It wasn’t one of those that no matter how hard I worked I just couldn’t polish it in time.  Neither was it a great sermon ruined by delivery.  It wasn’t a somber sermon ruined by too much energy or an energetic sermon ruined by a melancholy day.  I have preached all of those sermons too many times and while they are unpleasant, I always find it easy to move on from them.

But Sunday’s sermon was a different kind of lousy.  As I preached, I suddenly realized that if I had just gone over the manuscript two or three more times (which only takes about an hour) it would have been good.  It just needed more preparation.  To make it worse, last week was a light ministry week which means I had a lot of hours to make it great.  And I wasted them on other things.

Then Sunday morning happened, which was a very pleasant morning all in all except that I had a sore throat and a nasty headache and I tried to do an experiment where I put communion in the middle of the service and we had an Advent monologue, candle and music special that made everything go wonky.  This was in addition to the million other little things that happen on a Sunday morning and right after worship my family and I piled into our car to drive four hours to be at another church’s Christmas party so that we could share our vision for the Salt Lake area.

So by the time I began my sermon, my brain was everywhere but in the sanctuary.  I found I had completely forgotten the basic movements of the sermon.  I had last practiced it Thursday, despite having time both Friday and Saturday to review it.  Halfway through the sermon, I lost complete track of what pictures were on the Powerpoint reel and what they had to do with Malachi 3.  I went back and forth several times trying to remember why I had put the pictures where I did.  On top of that, I had no energy and a hoarse voice and a very distracted mind that just couldn’t put a coherent thought together.

I did not pull the sermon off.  It started out okay.  My clever intro got a few laughs and engaged a few people.  At that point, I thought, “maybe this sermon isn’t as bad as I thought it was.”  Then I transitioned to the exegesis, a transition that involved fumbling around with the remote trying to get the right picture to pop up on the screen, and everybody was gone.  It went downhill from there.

At 11:45, after several misspeaks and stutters and Powerpoint mishaps, finding I had no energy left and that my voice sounded like a snake swallowed a frog, I finally said, “Let me tie this all together for you.”  I told them my thesis statement and closed.  I saw relief flood the faces of my congregants.

But it wasn’t over.  As a fitting nail in the coffin of the day, I played a completely random Youtube clip that was tonally inconsistent with the mood of the morning.  I stood back up to see the perplexed faces of my congregation, went ahead and prayed the benediction and let them go.

I know full well that the sore throat and lack of energy could not have been avoided.  In fact, without them I might have gotten away with the lousy sermon preparation that had happened earlier in the week, when I had all the energy and all the time in the world.  However they exposed a deeper crack that had all ready taken place.

Everything else could have been avoided.  I had plenty of time on Friday to go over to the church and run through the sermon two or three times to memorize the pictures.  I had time Monday through Thursday to really wrestle with Malachi 3 and tie it into my metaphor.  I just chose not to use it, instead wasting time on other activities that have nothing to do with the church.

In fact, in this light, I think the sore throat was God’s grace to me.  As much as it punctuated the all ready failed effort, it was a good wake up call that I am not always going to be able to pull off a miracle save after a lazy week.

But a new week lies ahead, a week full of opportunity to dig deep into the Scriptures, think creatively and critically about the world we live in and invite the congregation into that thinking with a well prepared, engaging talk that opens up God’s kingdom of possibilities.  Very little of that happened last week, but God has given me a new week to try again.

After all, the best part of the preacher’s life (and also the worst part) is that no matter how great or awful one Sunday morning goes, you always have 51 more looking at you in the next year.  You have no time to dwell, only time to move forward.

On that note, after the lousy sermon, before I fled the building in disgrace, one of my parishioners grabbed my hand and shook it.  He is a statesmen in every sense of the word and very good at raining compliments down on people who need them.  He said, “You know why I respect you, Pastor?  Even when everything comes off the rails, when your Powerpoint gets all screwy and you don’t feel good, you still see it through.  That is not easy and I appreciate it!”

“Thank you” I said.