One of the nice things about being a long-term substitute pastor is that coming up with a sermon week after week is not so hard as coming up with a sermon for a one-shot appearance. I know that many faith communities follow a calendar that determines what passages from scripture are to be read, and what the homilies are supposed to be. But as a Baptist, I belong to a faith tradition referred to as “the low church.” What this means is that we don’t follow the church calendar at all, outside of celebrating Easter and Christmas. Things such a Lent, Ash Wednesday, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and the like are not things that we pay attention to or even think about—and in fact, most people in my congregation would be hard pressed to think of anything other than Easter and Christmas. There is no church hierarchy to tell you what to preach on any given Sunday. As the person tasked with preaching it is up to you to come up with something that might keep people awake for the half hour you’re allotted between the singing of songs and announcements.
When I merely filled in for a sick pastor or vacationing pastor, I had to come up with something I hadn’t done before and it had to be a standalone sermon. Now that I’m the interim pastor, I have to do this week after week for the next several months until we manage to find a permanent replacement. This allows me the freedom of doing what’s called a “book study.” I pick a book out of the Bible and each week I preach from a few verses or a chapter. I like that: I don’t have to wonder what to talk about. Last week I did chapter one? Then that means this week I have to do chapter two.
Being an essential weird person, I picked Ecclesiastes. This is partly due to the fact that I really like the book—I think its existentialism speaks to twenty-first century Americans in California better than just about anything else in scripture—and given that I’ve spent a lot of time over the years reading the book, translating it, and teaching it on the college level, I actually think I sort of know what I’m doing when I talk about it.
So far, the congregation hasn’t died from listening to me. We’re already half way through the second chapter.