The Festival of Homiletics has become one of the standards for many clergy in their continuing education (as if we didn’t get everything quite figured out by commencement day at the end of seminary). Homiletics is just a fancy word for preaching, and even though I only participated online, I could tell there was a bit of fanciness, to say the least, in the two beautiful sanctuaries used in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to host the hundreds who gathered in-person. From the pulpits of East Liberty Presbyterian and Calvary Episcopal, emerged some preachers who have some vibrant prophetic game, to put it mildly.

And then there was this one poet named Pádraig Ó Tuama from Ireland: someone who didn’t maximize the volume of his voice to the point of nearly lifting physical (and spiritual) roofs as some of the other keynote speakers did. Instead, his voice was the kind where you would want to find his cherished Irish tea and listen to him read his beautiful stories while sitting around a campfire as you faded into slumbering sleep. Oddly enough, most in the audience are part of a profession/calling in which they need to do their best to ensure their respective pew assembly do not fade off into slumbering sleep on Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings.

Regardless, Pádraig Ó Tuama brought up an interesting point with the whole proclamation during worship experience. That, as the preacher goes off on whatever they wish to expound upon from the pulpit, the hearers are not ultimately focused on what the pastor is saying, but on what is being said within them. Whatever is said in front of them is simply a vocal breeding ground, setting the stage for personal life memories and experiences and hopes and dreams to rise in their listening soul.

Granted, if we’re completely honest, some might only be thinking of grocery lists and all-around to-do lists to take care of after the sending hymn concludes. It’s okay. It happens. We’re human. But for those who do more attentively listen to the sermon, they still may hear something completely different than what the preacher intended because of all the biographical variables for everyone’s respective story that the clergy-person cannot have full grasp of no matter how well they know the person. It’s okay. It happens. We’re human. And, that/your story matters, too. After all, the whole idea for the sermon, the proclamation of God’s grace and love and never-ending embrace, is not to stop when the, “Amen,” or the like, is spoken before the hymn of the day ensues. The sermon is meant to be yet another starting point for Gospel awareness in our life-long story.

In doing some more research on Pádraig Ó Tuama’s work, I was drawn to this poem that was meant more so for the recent day when seemingly all the world was taken aback by what was playing around in the sky, but it still applies today and always; throughout our entire life-long story.

As night stretches here,
day contracts elsewhere.
And in their night, we are
bathed in light. In all nights
there is light; in long days
there can be ache too.

For you, we call the sun
to stand still a while, and
the moon too, and stars, and
the waters and the heavens.
Hells as well—just for a
second; just for a breath.

May that breath rest you.
And may each breath rest you,
as it has until now, and now
and now. This one, after
that one, after that one after

Nothing fancy. But still beautiful. Still holy: a breath of grace and love and never-ending embrace for all your nights and days, throughout your whole life-long story, a story that God treasures just as much as any other. Thanks be to God!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad

Image: East Liberty Presbyterian Church (Pittsburg, PA)

“A Solstice Blessing” (Pádraig Ó Tuama)