A year ago this week, I had my trial sermon at the little church I serve. They have a tradition that they've been observing the past few years in conjunction with one of their mission projects. They pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child,* and the second Sunday in November is when they dedicate them. As part of my trial date (interesting phrase), I was asked to lead this part of the service as well. I had the children gather around the shoeboxes and stretch their hands over them and led them in prayer. Two weeks later, I officially began my time as pastor of the church.
It's the second Sunday of November, so that means we once again piled the shoeboxes in the chancel, and we once again prayed over them. This was my first 'once again.' As time goes on we'll celebrate Advent once again, and then Christmas, and Lent, and Easter. No more firsts. Now it's once again. Once again. Once again. At least in terms of the church year. There are plenty of firsts to come.
I sometimes wonder how pastors are able to come up with a fresh message to share during the big Jesus holidays, or perhaps it's better to say how they're able to come up with a fresh way to share the same message, a fresh way to recognize Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection. Is there ever the temptation to just 'tweak' last year's Christmas Eve reflection? When Year A in the lectionary rolls around again, how great is the temptation to revisit that year's Easter sermon and recycle the story you used? And if the fit hits the shan the week before--Gertrude dies, Cecil is diagnosed with cancer, something happens in the family--how much more tempting is it?
I get to find out soon. After next Sunday, which is my last first of the church year, it's back to the beginning of the circle. Things will certainly be different, but I anticipate moments when it'll feel the same. There's something there about experiencing things anew rather than experiencing new things, and that'll be a great sermon once I draw it out a little. What the heck, I'll give it its own line to emphasize it because I think it's pretty good:
There's a difference between experiencing things anew and experiencing new things.
Maybe we don't need to do the latter all the time. Something to keep in mind.
*Let's not get too hung up on the theology of Franklin Graham's organization. I say this with my new webring membership in mind. Those shoeboxes serve a wonderful end, whether one completely agrees with Graham's theology or public statements. Luther started the Reformation, but he also persecuted Jews. Nobody gets it 100% right.