Last night I had a wonderful conversation with the pastor who is to be my hostess and mentor for the church where I will be preaching. As a result of that conversation, I will be moving in a different direction with my sermon.
Historically that parish has had a difficult experience with a previous seminarian who came in with her own hidden agenda and dismissed the congregation as being ignorant because they did not like what she was doing. Their current pastor knew of this history and having herself done her Teaching Parish work there, has moved very slowly with regards to new things and only when those new ideas came from members of the parish not from the pastor. She advocates the wisdom of gaining the congregation's trust before doing anything new. Since I will not have this time to gain their trust, and since they are already suspicious of seminarians having been wounded by one in the past, my task is to be an ambassador of sorts in representing seminarians. Because I was so excited about the immersion experience she was able to persuade the congregation to own their gift of hospitality in welcoming me in spite of their fear and suspicions regarding strangers and especially seminarians. She is convinced that my presence will help dispel the previous experience that this congregation had. While this is a bit intimidating it does put my "welcome to WV" e-mail from their bishop into a new light.
Since technology is viewed suspiciously as well, I will not be incorporating technology into my sermon presentation, however, I will be using it to write the sermon and will reference where I read those things which I elect to share in my sermon. The launching pad for my sermon will be a quote from a letter to the editor that a friend quoted in part on Facebook. From his quote I was able to go to the library, find the magazine, photocopy it, and have a reference which connects the epistle lesson to the gospel and to the fact that the week I preach will be the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
I also have resources which were downloaded from journals which have been scanned and transformed into PDF files which I was able to access online. These tools will be invaluable to me when and if I find myself in a rural context at some point that is not located within driving distance of a seminary library. Of course I will have to pay for such access in the future, but in the meantime I have this wonderful opportunity to review professional journals and discern which ones I go to often and then subscribe to them, or request such subscriptions as gifts in lieu of Christmas offerings.
I am also using online commentaries (WorkingPreacher.org; The Text this Week; Crossmarks, etc. Plus a fairly new commentary (Feasting on the Word). What I love about this commentary is that four different commentators are presented on 4 different aspects of each text: Theological, Pastoral, Exegetical, and Homiletical. On any given Sunday you have access to as many as 16 different commentators in crafting your sermon. I will be restricting my sermon primarily to the epistle lesson and the gospel lesson and using those to connect to the context of this parish which is a union church that was founded over 30 years ago. They acknowledge and use resources from both the ELCA/Lutheran and PCUSA/Presbyterian, and have adapted a worship service using elements from each.
It is a small parish with an average worship attendance of 35-48 depending on the weather and other issues. Since they do not use technology, they are suspicious of anything new, and they are especially suspicious of strangers and in particular seminarians. So my task as a preacher is to gain their trust before I even say a word. I must also hold their trust in preaching my sermon, and in not alienating them.
The context is going to be key to my sermon. Since they are a federated church they will appreciate acknowledgement of their unity (something infrequent in today's polarized world of politics and church conflict). Their willingness to set aside their own denomination primacy in favor of mutual compromise for the sake of the gospel is something to be celebrated, particularly in a world that has forgotten civility. This quote from the letter to the editor: "When Jesus said lose yourselves and follow me, maybe that means go from person to person, standing in their shoes, until you have lost your shoes and spend all your time in bare feet, hoping the person you disagree with will wash them," makes even more sense when you realize that the magazine and the writer of the letter are Church of the Brethren and of the Anabaptist tradition which counts the act of "foot-washing" as a sacrament along with baptism and communion.
Their pastor loves the idea of addressing the unity issue from 1 Corinthians 1 in tandem with the gospel lesson of being called to evangelism by Jesus. She has been gently guiding the congregation into the realization that we are all called to ministry, wherever God leads.
So now I will redraft my outline and goals for my sermon and move in a new direction, being faithful both to the biblical text AND the sermon context.