Preached a powerful sermon today at Mother AME Zion in Harlem. I was scheduled to preach next week, but I’ll be in Detroit for my mother’s funeral then. I asked the pastor if we could bump it up to today, and he graciously agreed. He really is a good guy. Most pastors are, I suppose (good men and women), but he has been most willing to let me exercise my gifts, and I really appreciate it.
I had my eye on Colossians 3:2. It says something about setting your mind on things above, where God is, instead of setting it on earthly things. That’s the kind of Pauline theology that preaches itself. And yes, I do know that Paul probably didn’t write Colossians.
I woke up at 2:30 [Sunday] morning to finish out the sermon. I always wake up between 2:30 and 3:30 on Sundays I’m preaching to finish my sermon. I find that to be a great time of day to write. Also, I’m a serious procrastinator, and that is the 11th hour if I want the sermon to actually be good. I heard a rumor that Martin Luther King used to put 12-18 hours in preparing a sermon. I’m more like 8-10. Maybe I need to double it, but I think as I increase my efficiency, 10 hours should be more than enough time to really make some masterpieces. Putting a sermon together is a pretty fascinating process for me, actually. Maybe I’ll write about it someday.
But back to the Mom-talk. I got up and was dealing with the Colossians 3 text, when I got this overwhelming feeling: “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” Philipians 1:21. It may seem a little crazy to abandon your text at 3am on the morning you plan to preach, but it’s not. Crazy is ignoring such a blatant shift in the Spirit’s wind or trying to fight against it.
So I ended up with the subject “Living While We Can.” I dealt with the fact that sometimes, it does seem like things would be better if we could just curl up and die. Dead people don’t feel hunger, guilt, fear, or resentment.
To die is gain, but to live is Christ. What does that mean? The term “Christ” is from the Greek word christos which means anointed. So instead of saying “to live is Christ,” we can think of it as “to live is to be anointed, to be set apart by God to achieve a particular purpose.” Just having breath in your lungs and beating in your heart means that you are called to do some special work that only you can do….I worked Dr. King’s memory and even Obama’s imminent inauguration in to it in the name of relevance. The last line of the sermon was “make my mama proud!” You had to be there.
The standing ovation was nice, and the special offering they raised didn’t hurt. But, if you’re only preaching for those things, you won’t get very far. I’m confident that I reached a lot of people with a message to help their spiritual growth. That’s my purpose. Also nice was to hear Isis say, “You can really preach, Seth.” Never mind that fact that she’s been listening to me for 3 years and just felt moved to say that today. I guess that’s more of a reflection of me than of her. When she dropped that golden compliment on me, I said, “don’t you remember a few months ago when I told you that in 10-15 years, I’m going to be considered among the top preachers in the country?”
“Oh yeah, you did say that, right.”
It’s taking a lot of work, serendipity, divine intervention, networking, and exposure to realize that vision I have for myself. But hey, if everyone automatically bought into my vision, it wouldn’t be that special.
What does any of this have to do with Mom? Well, the whole “live and die” scripture would not have come to me if she hadn’t died last week. And somehow having her leave the planet makes me more determined than ever to be a huge success, if that makes sense. Also, preaching does involve some theatrics. I’m sincere with it, but anyone who thinks a good sermon is not a performance is just ignorant. As I was being introduced to the congregation, the news that “his mother just passed” hit them like a ton of bricks, making them way more receptive to the message. It still had to be good, but their empathy pushed it from an 8 to a 9 or even a 10 depending on how humble I feel like being. Guess I owe you one, Mommy!