On Sunday, Sept. 17, Adam Fass, WUUC’s Board chair, will be preaching. I have already had the pleasure of hearing him preach its draft stage. What I said to him when he was through was, “I wish I had preached that sermon.” The content is an invitation and exploration of the notion of service and its potential for personal and institutional transformation. I would invite all of you to be present that morning to hear Adam.
Preaching is always a daunting task. How to “preach” rather than “lecture?” What distinguishes what is said in a sermon from what you can hear at an event at a University? How many quotes should be used? How long should a sermon be? Is it okay to use the pronoun “I?” If so, how many times? What about personal stories? How many of them used as anecdotes are illustrative and how many are “all about me rather than about ‘UU’?” What is the point — if I have one. Am I pushing my own agenda rather than the call of something larger than myself? How to speak to the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual? To say nothing of the atheist, the Buddhist, the Jew, the agnostic, and the Theist? Someone once said that if you haven’t pissed someone off during a sermon, you haven’t done your job.
I have come to believe that there are two kinds of preachers: those who have sermons so well-crafted and inspirational that they can preach them to any congregation anywhere at any time. And then there are those who are “relational preachers”: those whose sermons start with the question, “What do the people need?” In other words, they know the members and friends of the congregation and they preach with a knowledge of what folks are bringing with them to Sunday mornings. When I was in the candidating process here, I remember telling the search committee that I was not an intellectual preacher but rather an intuitive preacher. I still remember the pause and then Janet Putnam saying, “Well, can’t you try to preach an intellectual sermon?” The one time I did try that, I looked out over a sea of glazed eyes.
We don’t come to church to be educated but to be inspired, challenged, opened, and transformed. Sometimes we come seeking answers. Or to dive down into unexplored territory. We come looking for something that we can relate to. That is why stories are so powerful. Often times, it is the story or the personal that people take away from a sermon rather than all the other words. Preachers in UU congregations walk a line between the intellectually stimulating but emotionally and spiritually accessible. We don’t always succeed.
What I can tell you is that Adam has succeeded with the sermon he will offer you on Sept. 17. It deserves — no needs — to be heard not just by the “regulars,” but by those who are on the outer boundaries of this community. It is an invitation and I encourage you to answer “yes” to it.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,