Sunday’s sermon was a difficult one to write and a difficult one to preach in a difficult service to lead.
I was in my own pain, my own sadness this past weekend. A personal thing, a small one. Very small, in fact, nearly invisible. Nothing that can’t be healed by a day’s worth of tears (okay a day’s worth and a few nights). But I found myself identifying with the people of Israel in Isaiah 61, feeling that life was being more than a bit unfair, and found myself identifying with Jenny, my sermon example. I certainly found myself struggling to whip up some hope and joy this third Sunday of Advent.
There are a limited range of options in such situations. Put on a happy face, for this is the Sunday of joy, and preach yourself into a place where you feel joy. Act ‘as if,’ as Pascal says, in the hopes that the ‘as if’ becomes the actual. But I’m not a very good actress. I think it might have smacked of a little– or a lot of– insincerity. I considered for a moment calling in sick, and asking people to do a hymn sing. This wouldn’t have worked in Plainfield, where our pianist is out and we sing to pre-recorded CDs. It might have been just fine in Montpelier, where we had no heat, and the remaining ‘frozen chosen’ who for whatever reason did not go home, might have been okay with no sermon at all (and yes, I did lead the service wearing my fingerless gloves. No, I don’t think that’s disrespectful; I think it’s warm). But I instead chose to embrace it, to acknowledge the pain I was experiencing and preach from it, preach through it, and let it speak to our need for joy.
They say you never preach a sermon that you yourself don’t need to hear.
Listening to the sermon (which I rarely do, but did this week, because I need to hear it), I think you can hear it in my voice, the little quiver when I say things like “sometimes, we carry around secret pain,” or when I read the psalmists’ laments, or when I pray for the grace even to let go of the things still tangled up in us. I think I made the right choice, the honest choice, and I hope that confronting and laying down my own pain enabled others to do the same.
Your turn, if you like. How do you handle it when you have to go through the motions? Are you good at putting on the happy face? Are there times when you push into your pain or anger or grief?