It's always the same five things
I have mentioned it only in passing on the blog, but I began as vicar of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Ivy last October, which means that I preach every week. I knew that it would stretch me to have to produce something new weekly, but I was not too worried. Preaching plays to many of my introvert strengths: I like the alone time required for preparation, and I enjoy (and prefer) larger groups of people when I am speaking about a passion or special interest of mine. Still, I knew it would stretch me, and it has.
I have heard it said that every preacher only has about five sermons in her, and there is much truth to that. We all tend to revisit the same themes over and over again, and we bring our own biases and lenses to the table. My five are not necessarily the same as someone else's five, but we all have our default approaches. When I preached once or twice a month, I could more easily come up with a fresh take, but now I am keenly aware of my predispositions. There is not a way around it, nor is it bad; it just is what it is.
This is not only true of preaching, though: it's life. If you have ever kept a journal for an extended period of time, you probably notice that the same struggles arise cyclically. Whether discontent or stress or excitement, our states of being follow patterns. I would go so far as to say it affects not only our emotions but our living spaces and our calendars. I know that I am a restless soul, always dreaming about the next thing, finding it difficult to settle into a place or position or role for too long. Even my house never remains the same for too long: I am always tweaking or rearranging. Our to-do lists show these themes that define our lives, whether they reflect an extroverted tendency to fill up all white space and avoid solitude or a desire to avoid relationship troubles by overworking. I realize that all of these examples are negative, and they need not be--we could just as easily feel exuberance about the fresh slate a new year or new home offers.
Again, these reemerging patterns and themes are inevitable. Self-awareness is the game-changer. That's the lesson to preachers because they cannot pull sermons out of thin air, but they can try to do something new each time they revisit one of their themes. I try to remember that when I fall into similar habits: that It is what we decide to do when we recognize them that matters. Are they a challenge or a comfort? Empowering or crippling? A help or a hinderance?