As the United Methodist clergy gather for their annual meeting each year, they engage in what may seem to others around the country as an odd ritual. At the end of the final day, all the names of the clergy serving throughout the entire state are placed in a hat. One name is drawn out and that person will be what is called the "conference preacher" for the following year. What that means is this: for one whole year someone gets to think about, pray over and plan for one sermon to be delivered to their colleagues and members of the churches gathered for the yearly meeting.
To some this simply seems cruel….a whole year to obsess over a 20-30 minute sermon. To others it may be a golden opportunity to craft the message they have always wanted to deliver. To still others……well, does the phrase "fear of God" mean anything to you?
For the most part everyone takes it in stride, seeing it as one more opportunity to do what preachers do…..study the scriptures, discern the call within the words, pray over the scripture, think about their context, their audience, write a draft, and another, and perhaps another…….and then commit themselves to the words and message they believe God is placing in their heart .It is after all, in the larger picture, one sermon among hundreds, if not thousands, that they will preach over their lifetime.
Today as that sermon was given during worship, I wondered…..if given this opportunity to ‘preach a once in a lifetime sermon’…..what would most people’s message be? If you asked the person on the street,"What would you like to tell your family, your friends, those with whom you work, if you had their undivided attention?" What is the sermon buried deep within you?
I believe one of our deepest human longings is to be heard….really heard. To have someone listen to our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our doubts and beliefs is a tremendous and powerful gift….for both speaker and listener. When we truly are present and listen to the heartfelt words of another we give witness to their life.
What would your sermon be? What words of wisdom and faith do you have waiting in your heart that the world really needs? What piece of scripture or sacred writings have taken root within you and have grown so full and tall that they need to have voice in the world? What simple, concise phrase guides your walking in the world?
A word of advice….don’t wait for your name to be pulled out of the hat! Go ahead……preach it.