Writing “Loving the Nearest Neighbor”

Tough Bible passages are par for the course when you’re a preacher. If you’ve read my most recent sermon, you know that it was a bit of a doozy.

Pastor Carl (head pastor at Fox Valley) decided to do a sermon series on the Ten Commandments this fall. By the luck of the draw (analogies to Jonah getting the short stick apply here…) I got # 7: adultery. It was my first Sunday back after maternity leave. Adultery was about the last thing on my mind at that point. (As I said to the Wednesday Bible Study group that looks at the upcoming sermon text, “With a new baby, who has the time for adultery?)

I knew this would be a tough one to write, especially after I picked the Matthew passage to partner with the commandment. I needed that passage because I think it shows how Jesus expands the definition of adultery beyond the man-owns-wife property defintion of the Old Testament. But, adding that passage meant that the whole divorce issue entered into the picture.

The easiest thing about the sermon was simply being able to say, “Adultery–don’t do it.” The hardest thing was dealing with the definition of adultery, and wittling down all of the positive aspects of the commandment.

As I said in the sermon, there are more sermons in thesse texts. But I’m not sure the congregation (or the preacher, for that matter) were ready for a 4 hour sermon. Here are a few of the issues I wish I could have preached on more:

1. Divorce, obviously. I had so little time to talk about it that I’m not sure I was able to say enough about it, and to say those things with enough grace so that the sermon had smoother edges (softer places to land, as my Dad put it) for people who are struggling with divorces around themselves.

2. What is marriage for? A huge topic, a life-time’s worth of discussion and practice for those of us who are larried.

3. Single people. I wish I could have read the whole of Meg’s blog post, and the comments that followed to the congregation. It’s a good sermon in itself. I think that God uses all our relationships to grow us into the people we’re supposed to be.

In the end, I am grateful for the mercy of a congregation and of God toward preachers. Stepping into a pulpit remains one of the most intimidating, God-fearing moments in my life. I am awed that God places me in that position, I am awed that people listen (and sometimes I question their wisdom for listening to me), and I am awed whenever I re-read a sermon later and find that it makes at least some sense.