On Sunday I preached a very poor sermon on Acts 2:37-41. I really shouldn't bother listening to it if I were you; you have better things to do with half an hour. To explain why it was so poor, let me give you a bit of background info about how I write sermons. On the whole, I don't spend a whole lot of time sitting down studying. I read the passage towards the beginning of the week, maybe take in a couple of light commentaries, and then put it to the back of my brain to turn over and over during the week. If something tricky comes up, I'll go find a more technical commentary; if something interesting pops into my brain I make a mental note. Sometimes whole paragraphs of a sermon are written and committed to memory whilst I am walking up the hill to work. On the whole, I find that I spot structures to passages, and craft structures of sermons, pretty early on in the week; the flesh to go on the bones might not come until Saturday. Or, let's face it, Sunday.
Anyway, the structure for this passage seemed clear. Peter mentions two conditions: repentance and baptism. Then he mentions two blessings: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In between stands the name of the Jesus Christ, through whom all these things are possible as in repentance and baptism we identify with him. Simples. Conditions, blessings, Jesus.
But when I came to put on the flesh, I got stuck. I can talk about repentance, goodness knows I can talk about baptism, I can and will wax lyrical about the forgiveness of sins. But I don't really know what to say about the gift of the Holy Spirit, Oh, don't get me wrong: I have a fine pneumatology. My doctrine is straight. I could lecture on the subject of the Holy Spirit.
But from the pulpit - as God's word to his people about his Spirit - I don't know what to say.
And that one failing became a black hole which dragged the whole sermon down into it, in my mind at least. Because it seemed to me that the central question had become 'where is the answer to this promise? Where is the gift of the Holy Spirit?' Shouldn't we be able to see that more - if God were here, amongst us? Shouldn't I have something to say about this?
So this is where I got to: I am not satisfied, not satisfied at all, with my current experience of God. I was saying to a friend on Monday that my dissatisfaction is almost at a level where I feel it might overcome my laziness and fear. Laziness because I know that, although I cannot work my way into a deeper experience of God or strive my way into his favour, I will need to seek him with my whole heart, and that sounds like hard work. Fear because as long as I can blame my lack of zeal, God himself is not put to the test, but if I really seek him and he is not there...
I guess I'm praying, in so far as I can be bothered and in so far as I dare, for more dissatisfaction that can be satisfied with this gift of the Holy Spirit.
And in the meantime, I will try to write a better sermon for next Sunday.