Stubborn Sermons

I’m working on my Yom Kippur sermons. Or rather, I’m trying to work on my Yom Kippur sermons. But they’re refusing to be worked upon.

They are steadfastly refusing to write themselves. Which frankly, just seems churlish of them.

To make matters worse, they won’t even tell me what they’re about. Is one of them about the Isaiah quote, “Is this the fast I desire?” Good sermon topic, and not one I’ve written previously, but I keep hearing that line in my head as spoken by a John Wayne impersonator, which I’m pretty sure is my brain adapting some stand-up comics bit about John Wayne playing Hamlet, and saying, “Is this a dagger I see before me?” None of which is helping me out at all, because I’m pretty clear that John Wayne and Isaiah have radically different voices.

I could talk about God. I like talking about God. Of course, I started off doing that for Rosh Hashanah, and wound up writing a different sermon entirely, because the God sermon was way too dry.

Prayer is a good subject. But, the problem with talking about prayer in a sermon is that the sermon comes a the end of the service–after the prayers have all been said. Which means it often feels like I’m explaining how to do what we just did. Feels a bit backwards.

The flip side of this is that some of my best sermons have been completely off the cuff. The flip-flip side, is that some of my worst sermons have been completely off the cuff. When I go in trusting that I’ll have something coherent and meaningful to say, 80% of the time, I do. It may not be quite as polished as I’d like, but it tends to be pretty good. About 10% of the time, I have something meaningful to say, but it doesn’t come out coherently, and meanders a little. It’s the last 10% of the time that I try to avoid: I start to speak and realize the sermon isn’t going where I wanted it to, and start rewriting an extemporaneous sermon in my head while I’m speaking. Those sermons tend not to work out so well.

So I’ll push through, and try to a least get some drafts out that I can react to: ideas that I can either develop or reject. And sometimes, in the process of putting down an idea, a sermon pops out, pretty much finished.

7 Replies to “Stubborn Sermons”

    1. Trusting in God is actually where I started when first I began to do extemporaneous sermons: the belief that, somehow, the next word, the sentence, would be there when I needed it. One of my professors taught regarding the line from psalms, “God supports the falling,” that it isn’t until we’re actually falling that the support is apparent. Trust that everything will work out is an incredibly difficult act of faith, but sometimes very meaningful.

  1. Well, my advice as someone who has to sit out in the cheapseats (and it is worth every penny you pay for it), is that no one should ever speak for more than a maximum of ten minutes. Preferably five, but not more than ten, and the closer to five you keep it, the better your chances of getting your point across. Short, sweet, right to the point. Give ’em ONE BIG THOUGHT you want ’em to remember, and use your five minutes to help make that happen.

  2. The best speech I ever heard was Chanan Margoles’ bar mitzvah speech this last Shabbat at Beit Yosef. Definitely worth getting.

  3. nu, rabbi?

    How did it turn out? FWIW, I can’t say I’m of the short & sweet sermons are best kinda folks ;-). But my life has moved me far from my old home community and temple. I miss my rabbi’s weekly classes and speeches too.

    1. I think they turned out fairly well. Of the four sermons I gave over the High Holidays, I was very pleased with three, while I thought one was okay, but not as good as the others. On the other hand, I’m not the audience that really matters, am I?

  4. If your flock stayed put and at least had the good manners to seem to pay attention, you’re all good.

    I see you’ve given up on ravelry. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I have not kept up with seeing what discussions you were trying to have. I’ve mostly hung out on LSG there myself.

    Been getting my weekly Jewish fix via my old hometown rabbi’s weekly messages. Not as much fun as arguing with him in person as I used to do in his weekly torah & talmud classes, but he does put out some interesting thoughts each week 🙂

    I enjoy your reflections too. Will keep checking here on your blog. L’shana tova!
    Maddy

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