You sit down. You write a sermon. And while it’s never over until it’s over, you step back and notice that your sermon is inhabited with presences from your past. You begin a sermon with a story from the New York Times. You didn’t grow up reading the New York Times. You cut your newspaper teeth on the Louisville Courier-Journal. But you remember the first time you read the New York Times. You were in college. One of your best friends, Robert Montgomery, was sitting in the library reading it. You walk by and say hello. He says reading the New York Times is amazing. You begin reading the New York Times. And over thirty years later you’re still reading it. Old friends.
In the sermon you also mention the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. You had never heard of Alfred North Whitehead until you found a teacher by the name of Clark Williamson. Clark introduces you to Whitehead and your life is never the same again. One teacher. One course. Never the same again. Old friends.
You write in the sermon about a painting by Fra Angelico. But so much of what you know about the Italian Renaissance and Fra Angelico came from an old friend. Ken Lawrence. Ken passed away a few years ago, but even today he remains a presence. His insights still alive. His enthusiasm for religion and art unsurpassed. Old friends.
Take a Breath today. I know. It’s just a sermon. I’ll deliver it this coming Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. But sometimes sermons are more than sermons. Sometimes sermons are like great houses in the Midwest. And in those houses are presences. Old friends. Never forgotten. Always cherished. Old friends still keeping the lights on.