We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. – Romans 12:6-8
A friend gave me the opportunity to preach and lead worship at her UCC church last Sunday while she took a much-needed week off. Since there was no Eucharist, and since the UCC denomination has a different polity anyway, I could design and execute the entire service. I was really looking forward to the morning.
Preparing the sermon was excruciatingly difficult. Sometimes it’s like that. It’s like giving birth; it takes forever and makes me sweat bullets while it’s coming. It was in the wee hours of Sunday morning before I had something cohesive and exciting that I felt I could preach.
Meanwhile I had been keeping an eye on the weather. It had snowed the night before, dry, airy little flakes that would sail with the slightest puff of breeze, and the temperature was hovering in the low negatives. I was to drive to Laramie, Wyoming.
Well, in the age of computers it is possible to see ahead of time what one is about to let oneself in for. I could see that the laconic WYDOT road report, “slick with falling snow and blowing snow” was, as usual, understated when I looked at the web cam that is placed at a spot on my route and thought at first that I was seeing static. So I took off my boots and called the fellow who was slated to lead worship with me. “I’m not coming,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s probably best,” he reassured me. “The winds may not be too bad right now, but gusts of up to 46 miles per hour are anticipated. I wouldn’t want you to get here and not be able to get back home.”
I felt like a total wimp. But there was nothing left to do at that point except encourage him to take over.
Having worked with him before, I could honestly say, “You’re going to do such a good job of leading your community in worship. You really know how to hold the space for people, how to pace things. And you know the worship so much better than I do.” I emailed him my sermon and told him, “Do what you want with it. You’re the preacher now.”
Maybe it was just wishful thinking generated by my guilt, but I think I felt him expanding into his role. There was some God-given grace mixed in with the complex assortment of motives that were driving both of us. I think he felt something wake up inside. “All right,” he said. “We’ll see what the morning brings.”
Perhaps he was a dormant preacher just waiting for somebody to blow on the coals of desire to proclaim God’s word hidden in his heart. We lay people tend to give away our ability to discern our own spiritual gifts. We look outside ourselves for the authority to say what we are good at, where our talent lies. And we also often project our own abilities, our own talents, onto our ordained clergy – and then wonder that they buckle under the burden.
I am a lay preacher largely because somebody told me I could do that and then invited me to try. They handed me an opportunity, some training and some encouragement and then stepped aside. And I can still remember the soaring joy I felt after preaching my first real sermon.
Maybe we all need signs to paste over our hearts reading “the buck stops here.” The authority to claim the spiritual gifts through which we are fulfilled lies within each of us. That secret whisper that names us: “preacher”, “teacher”, “prophet”, “artist”, “leader” is the voice of God vibrating our heart strings. We owe it not only to ourselves but to one another and to God to respond.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado