When I interviewed with the Emanuel Call Committee, I was completely honest with them. I told them if the wanted a perfect pastor, who was always put together, they should not call me.
However, if they wanted someone who was flawed and broken, limping through life, relying on the grace of God, then I might be the right choice.
Today I proved my point.
The day started out promisingly enough. I felt REALLY good about the sermon I had written. LIving in the insurance capital of the world, Hartford, Conn., I had written my first funeral sermon about insurance.
The man whose funeral I was doing (and whose family knows I am writing this blog) had survived the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 and went on to sell insurance for most of his career.
So I crafted a sermon that talked about faith as not just fire insurance, keeping us from the inferno that so many people fear in death, but life insurance, an assurance of a whole life, an abundant life, with God now. And how we can make a claim on that insurance now — we don’t have to wait until we die.
Now I need to be honest. I thought I had a sermon that had a brilliant turn of phrase, and so I was doing something I don’t often do. I was telling the people I was working with at our Saturday morning breakfast program for neighborhood kids about my sermon. One of them was my insurance salesman. I thought he would love it. I was not being humble.
I should have known something was amiss when I went to print my sermon out before the service. First, I couldn’t’ turn on the computer and when I finally got it going, my mouse was dead. Or, as I discovered, the batteries in it were dead.
By the time I got everything put together to print, I was more than a bit frazzled, but I did what I always do for funerals. I printed off one version of the sermon on one-sided sheets of paper from which to preach it and six copies, printed on both sides, to give the family.
I am not normally a manuscript preacher. In fact, the only sermons I ever write out, word for word, are my funeral sermons. I do this both because I want to make sure I am accurate in all of the details that I include about the deceased and because I want to be able to give the survivors a copy of the message.
Typically, I wait until after the service to give the copies to the family but today, for reasons I cannot explain, I decided to give them to the funeral director to put with the cards for the family.
This is the first time I have ever done that. Under normal circumstances, I always preach with the extra copies with me.
But not today.
So the service progresses normally and it comes time for the sermon. I get into the pulpit and start preaching, weaving the story of his life together to set the stage for the proclamation of the Gospel.
I had just reached the end of the page where I said, “ One of the formative events in Ed’s life occurred when he was 15 years old and he was a witness to the Great Hartford Circus Fire. But in its aftermath, rather than fleeing, this man” …
And then I turned the page. But there was nothing there. It was completely blank. And then I looked at the page under that one and it was blank, too. In fact, the last four pages of the sermon were completely blank. They had not printed and in my frazzled state after my computer woes earlier, I had not bothered to notice. I saw the first printed pages and just stuck my sermon in the pulpit.
If it had not been a funeral sermon, i could have ad libbed. I mean, I always just stand in front of a congregation and talk. But I have a completely different mind-set during a funeral. I was not prepared to deviate from what I knew was a God-inspired message.
So I did the only thing I could do. Utterly mortified, I told the congregation what had happened and said I had given my extra copies to the funeral director, so I would go to the back of the church and get one of those (wondering to myself why this was the ONLY time I had ever done that — every other time I would have had copies with me.)
In what truly felt like “The Festival of St. Murphy’s Law “ as luck would have it, the funeral director had just taken the bag with the sermons in it to his car in the parking lot, so he had to run to get it, leaving the congregation in silence.
Feeling at this point like I needed to do something, I decided to summon my inner cruise director, and gave them a topic to discuss — share your favorite memory of Ed with the person sitting next to you while we wait.
After what felt like an eternity, an out-of-breath, red-faced funeral director handed me the six fully complete and printed copies of my sermon and I walked back to the pulpit to finish the sermon telling them all about Ed and how he went back to help people after he survived the fire.
As for me, well I learned an important lesson. I was feeling a little too proud of this sermon and I was humbled. God reminded me that it is clearly not about me and what I have written — it is about God and I am merely an instrument. Because without the Spirit of God, i have nothing but blank pages.