“The terrible thing is the indignity of thinking such an endeavor is really important.”Thomas Merton
Merton expresses the temptation he faces as he writes about his contemplative life, taking his writing too seriously.
This is the temptation of the preacher too, taking his preaching too seriously. Granted, there is the other side of the temptation, the preacher taking his task too lightly. He shirks his responsibility, does not wrestle with the text until Saturday evening, gets outlines and stories from the net or other preacher’s sermons and makes few changes to make it sound like his own, the worst form of plagiarism, preacher plagiarism. But this temptation too, when you take a closer look, is probably the temptation to put too much weigh on the act of preaching. He is probably so frozen in fear at the immensity of the task, he can only venture to say what others say. He is insecure to say anything remotely his own. Procrastinators are perfectionists.
This temptation to make too much of preaching, of course, usually takes the obvious form, the preacher who makes his whole church about his sermon, the one who puts endless hours on his sermon so that he does not have the hours to do other tasks as important, listening to congregation, listening to his spouse. With such investment to the preaching, he will either come to believe that he has the best sermon or, more dangerously, the only right sermon. On the other hand, he might hit bottom every Sunday afternoon because he will never have preached a good enough sermon. And in trying to cope with that depression, it can lead to other sins.
A preacher should not take his preaching too seriously. It would make him a preacher who is tempted to sin in trying to cope with the weigh of his task. But if it is taken lightly, taken at its given weigh, then the task can be done joyfully. We do not have to try to calculate the efficiency of the task. We give the task our due diligence afterwhich we let things rest. A great sermon is not going to change the world and a bad sermon is not going to kill a congregational life.
There is also the fact that it is impossible to judge what was a good and a bad sermon. So if preaching is simply one of tasks of the preacher, if the hours are put and practice given, and sermon is preached, it is best for the preacher to forget about it. Not forget about the sermon content, but about the sermon experience. In other words, it is okay for a preacher to sit on Sunday night to watch a movie with a glass of wine. That too is a act of trust.