Three or four years ago, I stumbled across the above image on a Flikr forum. I found it completing arresting and enchanting and decided it would make a strong basis for a Christmas sermon series. I grabbed the image and filed it “for future use.”
As I was looking through my random idea folder (now on evernote) I came across a quote from my favorite Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann. He wrote, “No wonder Jesus was a revolutionary. His mother sang him protest songs as lullabies.” I don’t remember when I found this quote – I think I was listening to one of his lectures on Itunes University while commuting to an appointment. Either way, the quote had struck me and I’d taken 10 seconds to record it for future use. It joined the list of hundreds of random quotes, ideas and articles that strike me for any particular reason.
That quote and that image became the basis of our 2011 series, Christmas Revolution. For Scripture, it seemed perfectly fitting to use the “original carols of Christmas” sung by Mary, Simeon, and Zechariah and the Angel. We got permission from the designer of the graphic to use his image and we printed it on Christmas Ornaments for our church to pass out as invitations.
The series was one of my favorites to preach – it hit many of the lesser known parts of the Christmas story which are deeply rooted in the history of Israel, so the series was rich with Biblical teaching. It kept a running thread of “revolution” and how the true meaning of Christmas is to up-end us and astonish us.
This is my primary way of developing a sermon series. It starts with an idea I’ve heard or seen or received from reading Scripture. Over time the idea gets some meat on it and forms into a cohesive overall theme. The above example is obviously quite comprehensive. Others happen quite simply – reading a passage or a commentary, hearing a story can all trigger an idea that brews its way over time into a fleshed out structure for a series. The reason I’ve had series ideas sitting dormant for years is that they’ve never moved from idea to fleshed out structure.
So for this Christmas series, the graphic and the Bruegemann quote helped me determine to use the songs and poems from Luke and Matthew. Then the calendar helped me figure out which passage to do when. The overall theme of revolution/up-ending/astonishment gave me plenty of room to find stories. So when I opened my Bible on a Tuesday to start work, 50% or more of the structure was already in place.
Obviously, not every series can work this way, but at any given time, the human brain can be stewing on 8 – 10 different concepts and ideas. My current series idea document has 36 series ideas. My “random quotes and thoughts” has hundreds of entries. When I retreat to plan a calendar, I look over it all and see what comes up and how to connect thoughts.
Obviously, I have a whole other process for the final preparation of the sermon. This process above doesn’t create a sermon, it creates an overflow of ideas and a solid skeleton for a sermon. Perhaps another time I can blog on the Tuesday – Saturday preparation process of finalizing the message.
Everyone prepares differently and I am far from an example of an experienced preacher, but this method works for me and over time I’ve developed it to help me get ahead of the Tuesday blank page syndrome. I’ve found that it doesn’t solve all my preaching challenges, but it makes me more immune to the MHP syndrome of interruptions.