SERMON: It Is Well
BIO: Amanda Drury is a PhD candidate in Practical Theology with an emphasis on Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church. Amanda has served in various ministry contexts. She is called to the ministry of teaching college students who are preparing to serve as ministers in the local church and para-church contexts.
Lenny: Many preachers wrestle with what to preach on Mother’s Day. We think, “Do I preach a sermon focused on moms and risk irrelevance or, worse, offense toward those who are not moms?” Right of the bat of your sermon, you connect with those for whom Mother’s Day is not a “walk in the park.” You also connect with a wide range of people beyond merely those who are moms. How did you intentionally develop a sermon that would connect with all people, without ignoring the importance of mothers and Mother’s Day?
Amanda: I, too, wrestled with the idea of what to preach on this day. I kept wondering how my dear friend who suffered a miscarriage and has since struggled with infertility would feel on this day. In the end I decided to write the sermon for her. After every point of the sermon I’d ask myself, “Is this something I could comfortably say out loud to Alison?” If it wasn’t then I cut it.
Lenny: You could have preached this “It is Well” sermon in a simplistic, pie in the sky, “everything will work out in the end” kind of way. Instead you dealt with the honest angst elicited by this difficult biblical passage. Why did you think it was necessary for you to wrestle with instead of run from the discomfort in the text?
Amanda: This sermon flowed out of my deepest anxieties about being a Christian: how can I rectify a loving God with the deep suffering I see? I had been struggling with the promise from Romans, “and hope does not disappoint,” for a long time. “But it seems like hope does disappoint over and over again,” was my reaction. It seemed like a fitting time to tackle my questions here.
Lenny: Frederick Buechner, in his book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, suggests that unless the preacher is honest about the bad news, people will not hear the good news from the preacher’s lips. Do you think people were more receptive to the good news because you spoke to the bad news with honesty and integrity?
Amanda: This was a tough one for me. I wrestled off and on about whether or not to include my story. I was afraid I would shift the focus too much to myself. I wanted people to be able to insert their own story rather than feeling like they had to support me in mine. In the end I decided to share my story, though I’m still not sure that was the right move.
Lenny: How did you structure, or form, this sermon? You didn’t use the traditional form, which is the linear point by point form. It seemed to me you used a narrative logic form that is structured on setting, problem, plot, climax, and resolution. Tell us about how you formed the sermon for flow and affect?
Amanda: Oh dear, this is a tough question to answer. This sermon came to me in bits and pieces over the period of a week or two. When it came time to actually pull the sermon together I took all of my bits of paper, napkins I had written on, and pages from my journal and tried to put them all together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I just kept moving them around until they felt right. I then ran through the flow with a good friend who is an excellent preacher and asked for his feedback. I was so grateful for having him as a sounding board!
Lenny: You obviously let the biblical text take the lead in the homiletic dance. Yet, you didn’t just download exegetical facts you interpreted the text in the light of our 21st century realities. Tell us how you dug into the text (i.e., what tools did you use and what steps did you take into the exegesis) without losing sight of the contemporary context?
Amanda: I spent about 80% of my time forming and asking my own questions. I’ve found that when my first task is to crack a commentary my own creativity dwindles. I try to exhaust my own questions and observations about the text before I reach for the commentaries. This allows me to mine for what I find interesting and practical before jumping to the more factual-data components. I then use commentaries to help inform my questions. It may sound egotistical, but I often go into a sermon assuming the congregation is more interested in the questions a regular reader brings to the text rather than hearing a reading from a commentary. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of drawing from commentaries—I am so grateful for what I’ve gleaned from commentaries—I just want to keep them in the proper place. Commentaries help inform your sermon. They don’t write it.