Trappist monk Thomas Merton suggested that each of us is a particular word spoken by God, bringing a particular communication to the world as we live into that word through our lives. What is the word you are living? I have sometimes posed the question to my congregations in a different form, using the notion that every minister has one sermon that they preach over and over in slightly different variations, and asked, what is your one sermon?
Both images, whether preaching one sermon or living one word, invite us to consider precisely what it is we are about, what our lives are saying to all those around us. If each of us brings a single word or preaches a single sermon, we do not want to be wasting words or sermons on anything extraneous, but need to pour our energies into clearly communicating the word, the sermon, only we can bring.
I imagine that the words we live and the sermons we preach have been challenged to change over the course of the last year, as protests brought a new level of racial reckoning and the pandemic brought new demands to all aspects of our individual and common lives. While the one word, the one sermon, may still be with us, that word and sermon must to look and sound differently in order to be meaningful now.
How much did your one word echo with expectations of white supremacy, and how do you need to change your word to be more inclusive and less white-centered? How much did your sermon assume we could gather physically in a church without concern for safety, and how do you need to change your sermon so that it can be preached and heard by people who are not in the room with you?
The word, the sermon, remains constant inasmuch as it is rooted in our unique being. But how the word is said, how the sermon sounds, requires adaptation. Otherwise, it becomes just more noise.