This is my first sermon and I want it to be the best sermon ever. I have heard many sermons. Some good. Some great. Some short. Some much, much too long. I want my first sermon to be good and inspiring. I want it to be memorable.
Yet, so many doubts creep into my mind. Who are you to inspire anyone? What do you have to say that anyone would want to hear?
Sound familiar? So often I beat myself up. Instead of surrendering, I let my ego get in the way.
Surrendering is a wonderful lesson I have been learning and relearning while on my path. It’s so simple, yet so complex. Surrender? Hmmm? Now, why didn’t I think of this earlier? I have been trying to write this sermon for over a month.
How come we tend to forget the simple stuff? How many times do we find ourselves caught up in situations we really could have walked away from a long time ago? How many times have we been holding on, especially in romantic relationships, when we often needed to let go? How many times have we tried to fix someone or some thing that didn’t want or need our fixing? How come we overlook the simplest, most accessible answers in life and believe things have to be so involved and complicated? Why am I asking more questions than I’m answering?
I have a confession to make. I am still learning. I am still learning this sweet, simple lesson of surrendering. One of the biggest lessons, yet one of the simple solutions, to all life’s challenges is to learn when to surrender, surrender it all–to let go and let God. Trust the Universe, I tell myself. Well, the same Universe I trust when I’m anxious about my finances is the same Universe I can trust when sitting down at my keyboard to work on my sermon. It’s the same Universe we can trust when our sweetheart decides to move on without us; or when our supervisor tells us we’re not quite ready for that promotion we’ve just applied for; or when we feel uneasy and frustrated and nothing is going right. Surrender. Surrender it all.
I am also learning to realize the difference between surrendering and giving up. One of my mantras is “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.”
This is surrendering – knowing that God, the Universe, Spirit has got your back; knowing that after you have done all you can the Divine will pick you up and carry you the rest of the way. Giving up is throwing in the towel as soon as you hit the first bump in the road; losing all hope and faith; not believing you can make it in spite of the appearances.
This is exactly what I did when I thought the only type of minister I could become was a Baptist minister. I gave up.
Yes, once upon a time I wanted to be a Baptist minister. During my senior year in high school, I decided I wanted to go to a Baptist college, a Bible college. I wanted to serve God. Yet, when it came time to fill out the applications, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sign the statement of faith the schools required. I didn’t believe what they wanted me to say I believed. I was disappointed in myself. Even though I didn’t personally do these things at the time, I wasn’t going to sign a piece of paper saying I thought drinking alcohol, playing cards, or dancing was a sin. So, I went to a state school instead; believing that because I wasn’t a good Baptist, I couldn’t be a good minister.
Now, I am surrendering and learning that there are so many beautiful expressions and paths that lead to the Divine. I am learning that a sermon doesn’t have to be delivered with earth shaking force. It doesn’t have to be the best sermon, whatever that is. It just has to be. It is what it is. I can inhale, exhale and let it come forth. Surrender.
Well, here I am some 24 years later, an Interfaith seminary student, about to be ordained, and I’m having trouble writing my first sermon. I have prayed and meditated. I have read scriptures. I prayed and meditated some more. I listened to all sorts of inspiring songs. I asked for divine inspiration. I read as many articles about writing sermons that Google could find. I talked to my partner about it. I talked to my mentor about it. Then, this morning, it dawned on me, just surrender.
All great religions and paths at one time or another have spoken or written about surrender:
In Hinduism, the Laws of Manu 9.300 says:
Though he be ever so tired by repeated failure, let him begin his operations again and again; for fortune greatly favors the man who perseveres in his undertakings.
In African Traditional Religions, a Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria) says:
The snail has no hands,
The snail has no feet,
Gently the snail climbs the tree.
In Buddhism, Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life 4.40 says:
If fishermen, hunters, and farmers,
Thinking merely of their own livelihood,
Endure the sufferings of heat and cold,>br> Why am I not patient for the sake of the world’s joy?
In Christianity and Judaism, Psalms 27:14 says:
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
In Native American Religions, an Apache Song says:
You will be running to the four corners of the universe:
To where the land meets the big water;
To where the sky meets the land;
To where the home of winter is;
To the home of rain.
Run this! Run!
For you are the mother of a people.
In Taoism, the Tao Te Ching 22 says:
When the ancient Masters said,
“If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.
So here I find myself some 24 years later, answering my call to ministry, writing my first sermon, learning my lesson of surrendering but not giving up. Learning how I can truly be myself.
Thank you for allowing me to share my lesson with you.
Sheila K. Smith contributed to Whosoever while living in Atlanta, Ga., and attending The New Seminary in New York City.