April 28, 2019
Preached at New Hope Baptist Church
April 28, 2019
Preached at New Hope Baptist Church
Earlier today I had the profound privilege of preaching at my home church, the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle where my faith was formed, I received my call, and when I received invaluable experience in ministry under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr. We had a glorious time in the Lord!Read More
Instead of a sermon excerpt, this week I want to talk about the sermonic process. On my former blog I had a feature called “Making the Sermon” where I would talk about the mechanics of preaching and how I arrived at the sermon. For today, I want to revive that feature. You can read an excerpt of the sermon here.
Today I had the good pleasure of preaching at the Wanaque Community Church. I’ve been there every month since June, sometimes several times a month. They are a lovely people without a pastor and they have a few clergy that rotate in pulpit supply. I always look forward to going there. Always except this morning..
Let me say this. I was looking forward to going there until yesterday. The week was pretty normal as far as sermon preparation goes. On Sunday I selected the text from the Revised Common Lectionary. Since I’ve been preaching more regularly, I don’t leave the Scripture selection to chance/whim, trusting that the Holy Spirit can work through lectionary text as effectively as if I had selected the text myself. After selecting the text, I prayed and I read and reread the text during the week, jotting down ideas as they came throughout the days. By Wednesday I had a title and points. I had my introduction. I was planning to preach “I Want You Back” from Isaiah 43:1-7, riffing on the Jackson Five song of the same title. The sermon was all about God’s redemptive, rescuing, restoring love for humanity. I was excited! I mean, how could I not be excited about the privilege of telling the story of God’s great love?!?!?!
So Thursday I did my exegetical work and consulted commentaries. Everything was going as it usually does. And then Friday morning came and I was stuck. So instead of forcing it, I did other things: I folded laundry, went to lunch with my mentor and friend Lynne Westfield, and planned to run some miles which didn’t happen. By evening I sat down and still nothing. So I adjusted my schedule so I could put some sermonic meat on the outline that I had on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday afternoon I went to Panera Bread which has been my pastoral study for over eight years. My favorite table was open. I just knew God and I were going to flow and in a few hours my portion of the sermon would be complete. I was wrong. I wrote and wrote, toiling over words, but nothing connected. It was all very disjointed and forced and when I realized it hours later, I stopped. I decided I would rest and try again in the morning before service. When I got home though, I went looking for the sermon I preached on this text during my first year of ordained ministry. I couldn’t find it, but in my digging in the sermonic crates I did find another message that leaped out at me. I put the papers into my black folio and resigned myself to it.
I went to bed early hoping to at least get a good night’s rest. Instead I slept horribly, had a terrible dream, and woke up super late. Long story short, I made it to the church with several reminders of God’s abiding presence bolstering me before the preaching moment—including the hymn before the sermon, “Rise Up, O Church” . As I preached, I could feel God moving. I knew then that the message was what God planned for me to preach all along. The congregation was engaged and their body language was evidence that they were listening and hearing. It was a beautiful dance between God, preacher, and people.
Here’s the interesting thing. I was disturbed and discouraged during this process, but when I went back to find the original “Making of the Sermon: Standing Up, Praising God” it turns out this process, while unsettling and unusual, is not new to me. And in hindsight, I believe that God was using this process to remind me that God is always on time and that the preaching moment is about God, not me. That’s not license to slack in preparation, but an invitation to know who is doing the work. Because although I went into the preaching moment feeling uneasy, members of the congregation remarked about how touching and timely the message was in their own situations.
image take from http://gracechurchanderson.com/2016/08/sabbath-2/
God took situations that were bleak, hopeless, broken, dry, parched, arid, and desolate turned them around and made them to be joyful, hopeful, whole, satisfied, luxurious, and fruitful! Only God can do that! Only God can take a situation and turn it around!Read More
Start with God's Why
Reverend Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah
August 5, 2018
Preached at First Baptist Church Bronxville
God began calling me to preach in late 2002 when I was 26 years old. In October 2004, As a layperson, I preached my first sermon, "I'm Every Woman" based on Luke 10:38-42 for Women's Day at the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle, NY. I was quite comfortable in my career as an arts educator and diversity practitioner, so I ran from my call to preach. Plus, as fairly quiet woman and introvert, I could not imagine being a preacher. And then in late February 2007, I could not imagine myself not being a preacher and I surrendered myself to God's call to preach the Gospel. I preached my initial sermon on June 8, 2008 after completing my first year at the Theological School at Drew University. In Seminary I took the required Introduction to Preaching class with Dr. Gary V. Simpson and went on to take his Advanced Preaching Class: Preaching a Matter of Death and Life, focused on funeral sermons. In seminary I won preaching awards. After seminary, I served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Simpson's Introduction to Preaching Class for two semesters. I love preaching. I love hearing good preaching.
Even though I love preaching, it took me some time to get acquainted with and come to appreciate my preaching voice. Voice matters in preaching. In "African American Preaching Perspectives" in The New Interpreter's Handbook of Preaching, Dr. Cleophas J. LaRue writes of the viva-vox (living voice) which brings the written manuscript to life. He notes that the completed manuscript is an "arrested performance" only completed through the oral performance of the preacher. Reared in an African-American Baptist Church with strong preachers, you would think I would have a whoop. You would think I would mimic the style of those I grew up hearing. You would think I would appropriate the cadence and sing-song delivery of my favorite preachers, those I’ve witnessed in the flesh like Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver and Rev. Tracy L. Brown and those I’ve watched on social media like Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.
But I don’t.
As Gary Simpson—my preaching professor and mentor from seminary—used to say, “Donna, you’re not the most excitable preacher.” This was not a critique as much as it was an invitation to know my voice and to preach into it, rather than preach against it. To be sure, I get excited during preaching; On Palm Sunday on 2012, eight months full with child, Dr. Weaver thought I was going to deliver Big Girl in the pulpit after jumping so much during my preaching. But for the most part, mine is a rhythmic, but quiet, excitement. It is clear that I love Jesus and I find the word exhilarating and live giving, but the evidence of my excitement is not in song and dance. I remember once, after a pulpit supply engagement, being told how soothing my voice and preaching was--this was after preaching (what I thought was) a particularly convicting message. The responder shared that she felt convicted in a loving way rather than beat over the head.
If viva-vox matters, then authentic viva-vox is necessary and vital. Too many preachers mimic the style of others to the demise of their own voice. If God in God's infinite wisdom call me--Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah--then God intended for me to preach like me in style, delivery, and voice. Sure, we can be inspired by others and learn by those who are proficient in their preaching, but to parrot another preacher dishonors and does no justice to the the call of God on their life.
All that said, I found my preaching voice. I located my living voice, viva-vox.
And then I became a mother. Let me clarify—I became a stay at home mother. As the Assistant to the Pastor at Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle, NY I preached monthly, sometimes more. I had opportunity and space to hone my craft--both in sermon preparation and delivery--with a people that loved God and loved me. But I found myself home knee deep in motherhood with an infant, not preparing messages and not delivering much more than Please, Baby, Please and Good Night, Moon. (As a side note, being a stay at home mom provided some of my richest experiential learning in practical theology and pastoral care!) From monthly preaching to not preaching at all, I lost my preaching voice.
The sad part is, I didn't know it. Until 2013 at Concord...
I can recall Dr. Simpson inviting me to preach a night of the Holy Week Revival at the historic Concord Baptist Church of Christ in March 2013. I spare you the details, but it wasn't my finest preaching. I knew it. He knew it. I have to imagine the people knew it. And I'm sure God knew it. Because Dr. Simpson mentored me and knew the gifts that God placed within me, he invited me back to Concord the following year for the same occasion. This time around Big Girl was almost two and I was almost six months pregnant with Baby Girl. This time I around, not only did I not deliver my best sermon, but I stunk up the joint. In a gentle way, Dr. Simpson encouraged me. Without telling me that I bombed and that he was going to have to do damage control on Sunday, he shared that every preacher has moments when they swing and miss. The good news for Pastors is that they have an opportunity at bat the following week and the week after and the week after with the people that God has entrusted to their care.
It was after that experience that I realized I lost my preaching voice. Viva vox amissa. I cannot say that I actively did anything to remedy it at the time, besides prayer. Years have passed, it is now over five years later, and I am grateful to God that my preaching voice has been recovered. It has come back through prayer, but also my partnership with the God that I preach of: I have been more intentional about my study of the Holy Scripture, where ultimate knowledge of God arises; I have been reading widely, from self-help and theology to fiction and autobiography; I have been writing daily; I have been engaging in theological reflection personally and with colleagues in the Gospel. and I have been actively writing sermons, even when I do not have a preaching engagement on the calendar.
And in relocating my authentic preaching voice--viva vox--the voice that I once struggled to accept, I have grown more confident as a proclaimer of the Good News of Jesus Christ--even delivering challenging messages that motivate God's people to move from comfort and complacency to challenging the status quo and being agents of God's compassion here on earth.
Dear Readers, are there any areas in your life where you struggled to live authentically into the gifts that God has placed within you? If so, how did you overcome outside pressure or internal insecurities to be who God called and created you to be?
"It's All Love"
Reverend Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah
July 8, 2018
Preached at New Hope Baptist Church, Metuchen NJ
Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Owens, Senior Pastor
This afternoon I had the pleasure of gathering in Christian Community at the Princeton University for the Hour of Power, a weekly service of prayer, praise and proclamation for faculty and staff. As the guest preacher, I was immensely blessed by the entire service, but especially the power of the testimonies of the gathered community. They shared their hearts and souls in praise reports and prayer requests. It bore witness to the truth that the church is not a building, but any place where two ore more are gathered in Jesus' name.
And for as powerful as the testimonies were, what resounds in my soul is a turn of phrase--God's lavish love--printed as part of the liturgy in the Call to Worship and used in prayer and benediction by the Rev. Dr. Theresa Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and Chapel at Princeton.
God's lavish love.
This image brings to mind luxury. I've always known God's love to be ever present, but rich and luxurious? But of course God's love is just that. It is freely given and never ending. It is grand and costly. That which is lavish is abundant, plenteous, extravagant, and generous. Yes and Amen. God's love for us is so great that God in Christ dwelled among us in human flesh and gave His life so that you and I could experience abundant life now and eternal life in God's presence.
God's lavish love.
There was something else about it that grabbed hold of me. I couldn't put my finger on it until I dug a little deeper into the word. The English word lavish has its origins in a Middle English word with French derivation meaning "deluge of rain." In other words, God's love is not sprinkled on us. We are literally washed over by the love of God. This is good news. Not only are we never separated from God's love in Christ, but every fiber of our being is saturated by God's love.Even in parched seasons, knowing that God's love is raining/reigning down on me brings me delight and hope.
Whether you are in a time of spiritual drought or deluge of rain, on this Word Up Wednesday my prayer for you, dear readers, is adapted from the Hour of Power Call to Worship: May you open your heart, your spirit, your soul to the lavish love of God. Amen.