One morning I was working on my sermon for Sunday. It especially struck me this time how I learned my basic sermon construction and delivery far before I ever considered preaching on a regular basis. I learned how I like to deliver sermons from the way that my father delivers sermons.
Unlike my father, who one Christmas Eve took a Post-It note with six words on it to the pulpit for his sermon notes, I need to write out the whole manuscript of what I want to say, word for word, in order to do my best work, even if I don’t read the text word for word once I get in front of people. However, it was my father who taught me by his example of interweaving storytelling and scripture reading along with the exegetical work necessary to apply the scripture to the lives of the people who listen. It is work that draws the hearer into the narrative, and when I get it right, I know that it is because the Spirit is working through me, the same way that I’ve seen the Spirit work through Dad in some tough places.
Once he preached about Moses who had to hold his staff up while the Israelite army was fighting, if the staff lowered, the army began to lose. Moses has two of his most supportive and trusted leaders come and hold his arms up so that the army can win the day.
Dad got a limb from a tree outside, and preached the entire sermon with it over his head, asking two of his leaders who were supporting him in the midst of conflict to come hold his arms while he continued to speak. He delivered that sermon over twenty years ago, and I still remember the vision of him with his arms raised in the chancel area of that sanctuary.
The week before Christmas I made a batch of Santa’s Favorites, the chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies that are our family’s specialty. My mom adapted the recipe to perfection and it has carried over into vegan brilliance now that we bake that way. These are the cookies that are our personal Santa’s favorite, our Santa being our father. He always wrote back to us after we left him cookies and a note on Christmas Eve, even after we knew we were playing pretend. Our Santa, every Christmas morning, leaves a Santa Apple for every person who is in the house. I know that dad worked hard to perfect the Santa Apples, carefully placing each individual element to make a fun creation. I’ve continued the tradition in our home, even before we had children; it’s a little like Dad is here even when he is a few states away.
We eat Santa’s Favorites at other times of the year, too. They make excellent river cookies. One of my dad’s favorite things to do is to go canoeing. He took both my sister and I canoeing out on the river throughout our childhood, teaching us how to read the water and plan ahead for obstacles downstream. He is an excellent paddler, able to brave rapids in a canoe that I would never dare without a guide. I get part of my love for the outdoors from dad, in part because he shared his joy and excitement with us as he taught us the names of trees and how different birds sounded as they echoed through the woods.
I learned how to be brave and caring from my father, as he navigated the rapids of rivers and twists and turns of ministry. I learned that you can’t always avoid the rough spots, but you can enter the bend and paddle through it in a way that gets you out the other side in one piece. Maybe with a little water in the boat, but still sound. It’s not always easy, but the journey and excitement are worth it.