This notoriously bogus excuse from elementary school came back to haunt me the other day, when I printed out my sermon manuscript Sunday morning just before leaving the house only to discover my 10-page manuscript had somehow become one page plus one sentence.
Rushing to get everyone to church, which is common for me on Sunday mornings, I had little (no) time to explore my computer to find out where said sermon manuscript might have gone while I slept. For those of you who already know my facility with computers and my tendency to rush everywhere, it’s probably unnecessary to say that I was unable, in fact, to accomplish any of the following: to find my original manuscript through some magical document recovery process; to discover why and how this horrible turn of events had taken place; to rewrite, in entirety, at least some facsimile of my original sermon. To add insult to injury, when I got to church I remembered that I had a meeting to attend, further limiting my time to solve this little dilemma before the organ prelude kicked in at 11:00 a.m.
The brain-wracking that ensued is the process that eventually led me to revisit the whole “dog ate my homework” possibility. What would happen if there was no sermon? Would the world end if I got up and carefully explained what happened to me? Would the Calvary congregation grant me an extension?
I did not know. I do not know, in general, what one does in a situation like this, as its likelihood has only been the stuff of nightmares heretofore.
As my mind coursed through all the possible excuses I could imagine (“God’s Spirit told me that we should have approximately 16 minutes of silence in worship today instead of the sermon”?) I finally ended up where my children would probably tell you was inevitable: firmly ensconced, that is, in the land of “the show must go on.” This is where I ended up after I sat down in my office and had a firm talk with myself in the 3 minutes of quiet I had before we were to line up for worship. Oh yes, there would be a sermon, manuscript or not. It’s my job . . . and, anyway, I am the one who is always blathering on about how God shows up in spite of us, etc., etc.I would just have to figure out how, exactly.
I began by figuratively talking myself down off the steeple: “Amy, you studied this text for hours all week long! Remember, you actually wrote a whole entire sermon, carefully choosing words and phrases, crafting paragraphs to lead to a (hopefully) compelling point. If you can’t put something vaguely acceptable together on the fly, then, (I sternly lectured myself), how can you call yourself a preacher?
This painful self-taunt was enough to get me going (as if I had a choice). I marched up front and led worship, as usual. I carted up my one page plus one sentence notes, I started the sermon, and then . . . I just did the best I could.
In the end, I lived.
And, predictably, I also heard many, many comments like: “Wow, that sermon was amazing!” and, “I’ve never seen your delivery better!” (Pull out hair here.)
I am a manuscript preacher. I think I will probably always be a manuscript preacher. But this experience of preaching without a manuscript at the last minute without my consent taught me a few things:
It taught me that God is here, and God’s Spirit is working, even when I drop the ball.
It taught me (again!) what I always try to teach everybody else: that worship happens in many different ways, and that elements like liturgy and music and scripture deeply connect us with God—not just the sermon (duh).
It taught me (once more, again) to save documents five billion times and never, ever trust my computer.
It taught me that the Calvary congregation is kind and forgiving and maybe not really that good a judge of sermon quality . . . .
And, finally, it taught me that my heart may be getting older, but it can still withstand a prolonged bout of high blood pressure every once in awhile.
Thanks be to God.
No, really. Really.
Thanks be to God.