132 Steps to a Better Sermon
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NRSV)
On a hill above Padrón stands a pile of rocks where St. James is supposed to have preached on his mission to Spain. Tradition says that those who do not climb the 132 steps in this life will have to do it in the next.
So, I sweated my way up the stairs, and I imagined splashing myself with water from the spring that James found when he struck a rock to quench the thirst of a sick woman there. I pictured placing my hands solemnly on those stones and drawing out a blessing for all the preachers I know.
Then I got up there.
And found that on that day, this holy site… was also the site of a 12-year-old’s birthday party. He and his friends were chasing each other, all drenched with water. All carrying giant squirt guns they took turns refilling from the sacred spring.
I dodged a pair of them and approached the shrine—which is when the family’s dogs came over to bark at me menacingly.
I cut my devotions short and dipped my fingers briefly on the way out, grateful, at least, to have saved myself the postmortem trip.
As I descended, I started to get grumpy that my prayers had been interrupted, that I hadn’t received any preaching inspiration after all.
Until I remembered what preaching is about, what the work of faith is about: not to make God known (only) in stillness and silence, but also in clamor and chaos. The world doesn’t need more sermons about the God of seriousness and solemnity, but about the God of dog-barking, super-soaking, birthday-partying, prayer-interrupting life abundant.
Drench me in your living water. Fill me with your living word.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.