On a roll, at least this Monday early afternoon, on sermons that stick. Think of it…in your own journey, are there maybe 3 that you can recall? At least the essence if not each paragraph?
What I remember and try to offer as much as possible is from Herb Davis, when he and Fred Trost and I were on the staff at St. Pauls Church in Chicago. For me that was circa 1966-69. We followed the lectionary. Had different writing styles. Herb never lacked a prophetic voice, started writing his sermons at 3 or 4 a.m. That was Sunday when a few hours later, but never in a sleepy or hazy way, would preach his sermon. One thing about Herb’s preaching: he was never a cure for anyone’s insomnia! Never!
I remember one time Herb was still dancing along on his non-electric typewriter, pounding out that sermon. During the prelude! His office was right next to the altar, hidden by a door. I said, “Herbie! Worship has started!” He kept tapping typewriter keys and smiled. As only Herb Davis could smile. Always a smile never a smirk. I thought, which is part of my “never turn in a paper late” syndrome, we NEED to be in worship! So I reached over his shoulder, grabbed the sheet still in the typewriter, ripped it out—my version of having authority [!], handed it to him, “Come on, fella, keep to your heart!
He did! And, as my memory tugs, it was this moment when he stopped. Looked up. “Here is what we need to remember…God takes Jesus, puts Him in our face and says, ‘Look now…and mirror my words in your life and through your living.’” Riveting. Time stopped. For me.
Don’t remember anything more in that sermon or for all of us, most sermons. But. I don’t need to. Herbie can preach! And, as friends have shared over the decades—in our preaching as in our full ministry, never compromise the truth, do whatever we can so integrity and love do NOT hang on the scaffold.
It is into that, regarding sermons that I return to my wonderful clergy buddy, Joanne Carlson Brown. In her sermon yesterday about the horror and devastation of Charleston and what to do about it, she quoted William Sloane Coffin. As most of you know, Coffin is misnamed, for he was never where dead bodies are kept. From Joanne, citing Amos 5:21-14 [take a few moments and read it to yourself and see how it does more than hint about the calling to each of us in a new day.]:
“The Amos passage read for us today speaks to this as well. [Tagging with the King quote on maladjustment.]God does not want showy acts of piety – but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. I heard William Sloane Coffin preach on this when he was chaplain at Yale and after he read those words he leaned over the pulpit and said: ‘And what we have here is a plumbing problem. We are called not only to be salt and light but to be plumbers working on the system so that justice may flow and not be clogged up with prejudice, bigotry and hatred. So we can live into the words of Paul that affirm there is no Jew nor Greek slave nor free, male and female for we are all one in Jesus.’”
To that I simply say, Gott ist mit uns! Immer.