It’s been said that most preachers have one good sermon in them. This includes, I think, even great preachers and scholars like Walter Brueggemann. Thirty years ago he wrote what I think may still be his most important book,
Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation
. If you don’t know it, I encourage you to check it out. As far as I can tell, everything else this prolific writer has written before and after is rooted in this premise.
More recently, in a collection of prayers entitled
Prayers for a Privileged People
, I have come across a go-to prayer entitled “Practitioners of Memos.” It is a great prayer; it’s also a distillation of
Finally Comes the Poet.
(So if you don’t have time to read it, you could always just pray this prayer!) It begins like this:
Here we are, practitioners of memos:
We send email and we receive it,
We copy it and forward it and save it and delete it.
We write to move the data and
organize the program,
and keep people informed –
and know and control and manage.
This is the world in which we live and move and have our being. Even in Church. It’s not unimportant but it also does not usually gladden our hearts, either. The prayer (and our lives) go on like that for a while, until something happens. Until God breaks into our world, and into our lives.
And then – in breathtaking ways – you summon us to song.
You, by your very presence call us to lyrical voice.
You, by your book, give us cadences of praise
that we sing and say, “allelu, allelu.”
You, by your hymnal, give us many voices
toward thanks and gratitude and amazement.
You, by your betraying absence,
call us to lament and protest and complaint
All our songs are toward you
in praise, in thanks, and in need.
Finally comes the poet. This month we will gather across this diocese to sing ancient songs of hope and expectation.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
. We sing toward angelic songs like “
Glory to the newborn king
” and “
Joy to the World.”
Come, Lord Jesus.
It is true that we are practitioners of memos. And sometimes the work of ministry (both ordained and lay) requires a lot of technical work. But we can get bogged down by those “killer b’s:” budgets and buildings and butts in the pews. In our anxiety, we try to stay informed and in control and manage our way through these challenges. Vestry meetings can get longer and longer.
But the bigger work to which we are called, as ordained and lay leaders, requires more of us. Not more control and management, but more heart. It requires cadences of wonder, love and praise. It requires the poet’s willingness to face adaptive challenges about what it means to be Church in this time and place. These bigger challenges can no longer be ignored. While difficult, they also energize us as we begin to sing together.
As we move through this season of Advent and toward celebrating the dear Savior’s birth, and then welcome again those wise ones from the east, who come bearing gifts, may we remember this higher calling. May we be “summoned to song” in fresh new ways.
Come, O Come, Emmanuel.