During the month of February, I’ve had the pleasure of preaching two times in local churches, and I still have one more time to go on the 26th. I say that it is a pleasure, and it is. I’m honored to be invited to speak at churches, and I’m pleased that my Spanish is to the point to where I can communicate somewhat clearly. Even though I enjoy doing so, the process is quite the challenge!
Normally on Monday or Tuesday of the week before I preach, I begin to pray and seek what passage should be my focus. Oftentimes I go to textweek.com to find out what the lectionary passages are for the week, to see if there are any possibilities there. I find that it’s better for the passage to choose me than for me to choose the passage! Even so, day one of sermon prep generally ends with me having read five or six passages without really honing in on one.
Day two of sermon prep generally finds me choosing a passage to focus on. Sometimes I feel God leading me to a certain passage or topic. Other times the pastor of the church we’ll be visiting has a theme for the service which facilitates this process as well. I have to be honest, though, and say that sometimes I choose the passage that seems to have the most material available online, hoping and trusting that God can speak through my feeble efforts.
At this point I begin to study. As Bekah can attest, many times I have our Google Chrome web-browser open with about five to ten tabs, full of articles, translations, and commentaries. (This generally leads to her opening up another window for email, Facebook, and news, which I quickly but accidentally fill up with more articles, translations, and commentary; much to her consternation!)
Panic strikes when I realize that I only have two days left until Sunday, and in that time I have to come up with something to say, that will speak to a congregation that, in some situations, I don’t really know. That would be a challenge in any given situation, but I find myself struggling even more with the fact that I must speak in a foreign language.
The next couple of days find me feverishly writing, or shall we say trying to write, about a topic I wish I had more time to study and in a language I wish I spoke more proficiently. In the end, I have a sermon which I hope will communicate in some way to a people I barely know who live in a culture we’re still trying to learn.
And then, in faith, I let it go. The words leave my mouth, sometimes willingly and sometimes stumbled upon, but they leave none the less. Then I hope and pray that something I said, regardless of how I said it, speaks to someone, inviting them to a deeper participation with God in God’s Kingdom. When I finish speaking I sit down, and I ask Bekah, “How’d I do?” I’m sure she’s tired of hearing that question; I should probably let it go and simply pray that God speaks. Honestly that is the only thing to do, to pray that the Holy Spirit guide the mispronounced words to where they need to go.
I guess, in a way, this should be our stance whenever we preach or teach. Do the best preparations we know how, then, in faith, speak the words knowing that the true communication is up to God and the hearer. Being forced to do so in a foreign language is just a gentle reminder that God is the active party, and our job is simply to speak, and in faith let God do the rest.