It happened again.
I sat down to meticulously craft each word of my sermon for Sunday. But, when the last line was written and the period struck, I settled uncomfortably into the realization that I’d said the same thing for the past four weeks.
Like Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail,” I was momentarily tempted to make an elaborate show of deleting each and every word by hammering at the backspace key with everything I had in me. I was tempted but I didn’t do it.
Because I was once told that we each have one great sermon in us.
There is one thing—one truth—that we know and believe so deeply that we can’t stop ourselves from repeating it over and over again.
It’s been true ever since I stepped into the pulpit for the very first time. I have one great thing to say, and no matter what the scripture or the illustration, it comes out as this one truth.
Except that this wasn’t it.
For more than ten years, it had been another truth. It has been something else that I needed to say again and again. For another great preacher once told me that we preach what we most need to hear. And I never failed from needing to hear that truth. Every time I sat down to carefully type out this word from God, it turned out that God wasn’t yet finished telling me this old, old story.
Now, that one great truth is different.
It is no longer what it was. It was a good strong blessing for brokenness. It was riddled in doubt and ever hopeful that there would be resurrection. That’s what it was.
But now, it is a word about the lifesaving nature of community. Maybe it has always been about community. Maybe that good news was embedded in the hope of resurrection, but what I have heard myself preaching over and over again is this new “one great sermon” that is an admonishment to use our words carefully. To talk to each other about what really matters and to do our damnedest to stay in the conversation.
It’s something I heard the Chicago pastor Laura Truax encourage us to do at #NCLI15. In no uncertain terms, she told us that we have to “believe that God is bigger than we are.”
And if this is true, by her own claim, we have to cross the boundaries that separate us from our would-be enemies. You know, the Internet trolls and the Fox News fanatics. Those enemies.
Truax says that we “have to believe that God is doing something in our enemies.” In short, stay in the conversation.
I have a lot of questions about this.
I want to know if God changed or if it was me who changed.
Why is this admonishment to stay in the conversation what I most need to say now? Why is this the “one great sermon” I find myself preaching over and over again?
Why now? What happened? What changed?
Because it’s not just a sermon that I hear in my preaching. It’s something I keep hearing from preachers and politicians.
I hear it in coffee shops and down at my local bar. It’s something I hear over and over again as we all struggle to stay in the conversation. Not just to talk about the weather or other such pleasantries, but to stay in the conversation as we do our damnedest to say and to hear what matters most.
I want to know if this is a new thing that God is saying or whether I’m finally listening to what God has been trying to put on all of our tongues.
More than that, why do I doubt this new “one great sermon?”
Why do you?
The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine and Washington. She believes in the power of community, that poverty can end in our lifetime and that everyone needs a little more love. Follow along in her adventures in ministry at http://revelsaanderspeters.com. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsa.a.peters.