“The ‘I’ Am in the Storm.”
The thing about being sort of a “circuit riding” minister who speaks at various churches is that you tend to “recycle” sermons from church to church knowing that the audience will be different. Additionally as someone who may get called at the last minute to fill in, it’s always a good idea to have a few “canned” talks that you can grab easily and deliver with some level of confidence to balance out the lack or prep time or practice that you might usually have when you’ve lived with a talk for the last week working on a fresh one.
So needless to say I have talks going back to my ministerial school student days in the late 90’s and early “oughts” both in text files and sometimes as recordings, and even a few on VHS. Some were class talks, and many were delivered at various churches that asked the local seminarians to fill in for the minister (a lot of times during non religious holidays such as the 4th of July or Memorial Day, when the minister wanted a break, or on Father or Mother’s Day when they wanted to be with their parents, or were for whatever reason not comfortable with talking on those topics.) Many of these I have blown the dust off of and re-visited on occasion.
Also some of the talks or topics were so good to begin with, or had a lot of potential that I’ve taken them with me as I matured on my spiritual journey as a man and minister, tweaking and adapting them to suit the times and the audience. In honor of that whole “Throwback Thursdays” thing that you “kids” are all doing these days I thought I’d share some of my earliest talks and videos (if I can get them digitized) from my earliest days as a ministerial student, and young minister. I thought I’d share one of my earliest online sermons today. One that has actually grown and matured from a class talk at Unity Village, to my first short lived church in Wellington Florida, The Center for Positive Christianity (where this was recorded at,) all the way up to today where it has become one of my favorite canned talks to do when I have the honor of guest speaking someplace for the first time.
This talk, entitled “The ‘I’ in the storm,” was originally birthed as a classroom assignment at the Unity School of Christianity (Unity Village, MO) for our Communications (i.e. Preaching) Class. The project was to put together and deliver a “Tension Talk,” a sermon where there is a feeling of tension at some point of the delivery; some sense of conflict or impending doom that is resolved by the end of it.
Basically the idea is to lure the listener in with some conflict or drama, and then let them go energetically higher afterwords with hopefully some good lessons or more positive feelings. It’s a style I’ve grown to love as a minister, and I usually incorporate this into my preaching style all the time; Beginning the sermon by sucking the listener in with a good story, then letting them go with a humorous resolution to the story or an “aha” moment, then spending the rest of the sermon weaving that story into the rest of the spiritual lesson.
Yeah, it’s slightly manipulative, but it’s a speaking style that I respond to as a listener. It is very similar to what some of the best storytellers I love like Garrison Keillor, the host of CBC Radio’s Vinyl Cafe- Stuart Mclean, and even humorist David Sedaris do amazingly well. And where I think I developed my skill at this style of delivery from decades of being enthralled by them.
This version of this talk, from 2003, I believe is one of the best sermons I have ever delivered. I think I got the tension right; the sense of drama. I think I tie the message, the scripture I utilized and the story beautifully, weaving in and out of all three “pieces.” And to make this even better, the companion music- Cheryl Wheeler’s song “Storms, ” as a lead in, and Dougie Maclean’s classic “Ready for the Storm” as an end cap, delivered flawlessly by my then music director Will Hughes perfectly drives the message home.
Growing up in Michigan, and being a huge Gordon Lightfoot fan, I have always been fascinated with the tragic story of the great ore freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald which went down in a massive Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, taking with it, in a matter of seconds, the entire crew of 29. The ship, much like the Titanic was deemed “unsinkable” when it was first built, and like so many of man’s creations couldn’t stand up to Mother Nature’s wrath…and man’s folly.
I think the telling of the story is a great tension builder in the beginning of this piece, and I am really proud of how I manage to flip the listener’s attention from the story to the introduction of my scriptural element with just a simple pause. The overall message of this sermon is that, no matter what storms my be confronting our hectic lives at any given moment, be they big or small, or just lots of them, there is always a safe harbor we can turn to, a calm, peaceful and centered place and it’s right inside of us.
In New Thought Christianity we talk about how the same “God-spark” that existed in Jesus, called the “Christos” (anointing) dwells in each of us. Appearing as a burning bush God referred to itself as the “I am,” and because of that we often refer both to Jesus and that God place that dwells in each of us as the “I am” as well.
So the theme and the title of the talk, as well as the metaphor of a hurricane which I talk about towards the end, is a play on the idea of the “Eye” in the storm; that regardless of what toils and troubles may be swirling around “out there” outside of us, we need only take a moment or two, and allow ourselves to turn to that calm space that dwells within.
You can do it by formal things like meditation or prayer, but also, and easier in those rough moments, is to just place our hand on the center of our chest, near our heart, close our eyes and breath in for a few moments, going deeper and deeper. I find it helps if I imagine that deep at the center of my being is a tiny spark, dim in the darkness, and being beset by the tumult going on around me. But with breath I take I imagine spark getting brighter and brighter until it becomes a huge flame at my core, keeping everything else at bay. Figure out what works for you.
I’ve given versions of this talk through the decades, it will be fun down the line as part of these “Throwback” sermons, to post other audios, just to see how I, and the theme has developed as I’ve “matured.” Enjoy. And comment below, or fill out an email comment in the box to the right.
(One note; This was recorded on cassette 12 years (sheesh) ago, so the voice has a bit of a “squeaky” tone to it, at least to my ears. Also since it was an auto reverse deck, the tape flips right near the end of the talk. It goes quiet for a bit. Do not stop it, or else you will miss the amazing song performed by Will at the end.)