It's An Adventure

The following was Buechner's response to the question: "Where does the sermon begin for you?"

I'm not sure it's always the same thing. I mean I can think where texts have just cried out to be preached on. I remember for instance having to preach on Palm Sunday and I wouldn't have had to preach the Palm Sunday text, but I did because I did because I have that business of Jesus as he approached Jerusalem and he turns a corner and sees it and weeps. I had forgotten he wept in that sort of joyous occasion and says, "Oh Jerusalem, would you that knew the things that make for peace won't be long before you lie in ruins." And that text just grabbed me by the throat and I thought of how one sees a city oneself coming into it and has that same thought: Would that you knew the things that make for peace, who says to what's going to rain here in 50 years? In other words, the text preached itself to me in a way I could do no other. Robert Frost, when asked how you write a poem, said, "Poems for me begin with a lump in the throat," and I think very often sermons begin with a lump in the throat where you are deeply moved by some experience of the holy, some experience of God and then you really cast it out to find that part of the scripture which seems to be talking about the same thing and you go out from there.

I just might say one other thing. One thing as I go on in the business of writing sermons, I'm not saying outlines aren't important and that structure isn't important as we were all taught in seminary. You've got to think out ahead of time what you want to say and it's well to be able to express it in a single sentence and then work it out and so on, and you can't cast that out. But as I grow old and preaching, I think of sermons much less as an essay, as a structure, as an outline than I do as a work of art, in a way as a poem. Well I don't think of it in terms of three points, but I have a sort of feeling for what it is I want to convey, some part of the reality of Christ, the reality of God, and I'm not altogether sure very often where I'm going to go with it, but I just allow myself to start off with a kind of abandon to see what happens, and I'm not sure that's to be recommended, but it's an interesting way of approaching it. In other words, if you're not having to push a truck up a hill, you're not having to build a wall, you're not having to create a structure, you're simply trying to convey to human beings who speak your language both from the sense of linguistics and the sense of experience, something terribly important that you've discovered and you do it the way you would speak to a friend or write a letter rather than as you would write a dissertation. I try to think of sermon writing less as a labor than as a delight, less as something I must do and as a joy, because it can be a joy and it should be a joy. I mean if it's going to come through right, it's something that you have enjoyed writing, maybe not in the sense of sitting with a silly smile on your face as you're doing it, but it was something that satisfied your stomach as well as your mind as you wrote it. It sounded right. It felt right. It felt like something that you could really sign your name to and it made you feel better when you finished writing it as if you've written it your way, whereas I remember writing sermons where it was really it was more I did think of it as a chore and it was a chore. I had to get it done and I wanted to put something across. Just maybe that helps to say something about the process of writing a sermon. It's an adventure. Let's say that. It's an adventure to write a sermon. You yourself aren't sure where you'll be led.