Some of you may know that I keep a file of “sermon outtakes.” Sometimes I pull out a joke that didn’t fit the tone, or an extra illustration. Sometimes I end up going in a different direction and so I take out a section that was leading up to a different point. Sometimes I remove entire paragraphs for length.
Theoretically, any of these outtakes could make their way into another sermon, so I try to make a note of the holiday or text or theme they were written for. I haven’t had the chance to reclaim any of them yet, but to be fair, I’ve only been keeping the file for a year and change.
As I removed and rewrote the conclusion for my sermon from June 21st, I read through my collection of outtakes again, and I noticed that there were a couple different passages that tried to express similar ideas, ideas that I’ve tried to preach more than once but couldn’t quite put the right words to at the time.
But since the original conclusion of my sermon for the 21st was, coincidentally, about how we don’t always have the right words to express what we believe, I thought that I would share it, along with another two outtakes.
“We are not perfect and we aren’t always going to get it right. That’s just being human. Our end goal isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be better. I know that there are themes and causes that I feel confident speaking to and openly supporting, but I also know that there are issues that overwhelm me. I know how to celebrate Pride Month, but not Juneteenth. I have been totally comfortable leading classes on death and dying and funeral planning, but I don’t know where to begin in preaching an impassioned condemnation of the countless ways that our society prolongs systemic racism, however much I wish that I did. I hope that I’m never remembered as being like Pharaoh. I hope that my heart never becomes too hard to be unraveled and woven into something new.”
“I like to think that if I had been ordained twenty years earlier, that I would have been an open activist against homophobia and a strong advocate for the environment. But there were times after seminary when I struggled to pay my rent, even when I was working. I don’t have a spouse to support me if I destroy my career by being too controversial. It’s easy enough now to make these grand idealistic statements… But six years ago, I preached on this text [1 Kings 21:1-16; the story of Naboth being killed so that the faithless king could claim his orchard] at my home church. I boldly said that if I were ever to find myself in a church that wouldn’t let me perform the wedding of a same-sex couple, that I would leave and find another church; another denomination, if I had to. It’s a nice sentiment, but I had no idea at the time that my ordination was still four years away, or that it would take me two years from finishing seminary classes to finding a church after a series of part-time, temporary, low-paying jobs. How brave and how bold would I really have been, if my livelihood and career had been at stake? How much would I really have risked? Would I have done as much as I could as quietly as I could, planting seeds for the next generation? Would I have convinced myself that change wasn’t possible and resigned myself to a belief that there was nothing I could do?”
“If you can live the life that God calls you to live, if you can treat your enemies with mercy, if you can treat the oppressed with dignity, if you can find the strength to do what is right (even when it’s hard), if you can find the courage to speak up for what is right (even when you aren’t the one being hurt), if you can seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God…if you can live that life, then there will be people who hate you. If the table is round, then no one gets to sit at the place of honor. If the pizza is sliced up equally, then no one gets to call dibs on the biggest piece. If we recognize that the way our society is set up hurts people, then not only do we have to admit that we were wrong, but we have to change, and we don’t like doing either of those things.”