“I never really knew what I was going to say until I started to write.” That was a comment my father made to me recently. We were having a conversation about sermons, how we start them, where ideas come from, what to say, what not to say. How does one impart wisdom from the text, reveal the love of God, encouragement, relevance, challenge? Sometimes you aren’t sure whether your offering on a Sunday morning will land, inspire or fall a little flat. Sometimes you won’t know until many years later, and sometimes you will never know.
I never really know what I am going to say until I start to write, too. Like the father, so it is true for the son. I may have a kernel of an idea for a sermon on Monday; sometimes it germinates into something strong, and sometimes it just fades away. And often the idea comes to birth when the College of Bishops pores over the gospel reading in our weekly meetings.
Friday is my day to write. I suppose I need the pressure of knowing that Sunday is coming before I am compelled to sit and write something down. Sometimes the ideas come slowly and sometimes they flow. Other times the process is an excruciating one, like trying to pull a camel through the eye of a needle. Chris Martin, the lead singer of the band Coldplay, once said that their greatest hits were written in about 10 minutes. They could be written that way because of all the hours spent writing every other piece. Behind every sermon are hours, days and months of writing. For the preachers reading this letter… God be with you as you compose for Sunday.
What is true for the preacher is also true for the teacher, the journalist, the student, the author, the politician, the advocate, the script writer, the public relations managers, the communications specialists, the administrative assistants, and the list goes on. Writing to impart encouragement, change, compassion and understanding takes practice and discipline.
Sunday by Sunday, we listen carefully to one who took the time to write, to respond and to inspire the early Church to keep going, to soften isolation and rivalry with love, to turn injustice by mercy and show compassion to one another in the name of Jesus. Paul must have wondered whether what he had to say to the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Galatia and beyond would have any impact, inspire or just fall flat. It must have taken tremendous patience and fortitude for him to write some of those epistles knowing the personal challenges he was writing into, and not to lash out when things became personal. And they must have. I wish we could always show the same discipline when we write to one another or write about one another on social media. Sometimes the words we compose are deeply hurtful and insulting. While the striking of a few keys might make us feel good in a moment of upset, the words linger forever online. Remember who you are and whose you are. Paul could never have imagined that the letters he penned would continue to be read 2,000 years later. Be careful.
This season of Advent entices us to be careful by writing to one another. The craft of writing family letters and greeting cards at Christmas takes time and discipline too. I marvel at some who are so creative in their offerings each year. If you are anything like me, sitting to write cards takes time and it takes discipline. And like Friday is to Sunday for the preacher, nothing helps focus the heart and the mind in this endeavour more than knowing that Christmas is coming. If writing Christmas cards or sending out greetings has not been part of your practice in the past, I would encourage you to start. Take the time to write to a few that come to mind. It takes about 10 minutes to craft a simple message of hope to someone you care about. Drop a line to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Express your care to someone who makes a difference in your life. Drop a card off at your neighbour’s place or leave it at your door for the postal worker. Write to your local MP, MPP and town councillor and thank them. And so on and so on.
You may not know what you’re going to say until you start to write. But start to write… and I promise you the words will come.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto