Mary Beth Writes

This is what it’s like to preach if you hardly ever do it.

This coming Sunday (2/25/18) I am preaching in my own church, United Universalist Unitarian at 506 N. Washington in Waukesha, at 10:30. You are very welcome to attend. 

My sermon is “645 Years Later / Julian of Norwich and the Spiritual Art of Perseverance.”

I have been working on this sermon a little and then a lot for the past several weeks.  It is a peculiar adventure to invent a sermon topic, write the sermon, and then preach it. Women and men who do this every week have my utmost respect - and disbelief.

I advise it in much the same way I advise wilderness camping without wilderness camping skills. You can do it, but prepare to be exhausted.  There is the possibility of a snake right behind you, a mid-sized bear a half mile up ahead on the right, or a charming but deadly heresy twinkling in that puddle.  You have to try to stay focused.

So the first thing is finding a topic and giving it a Sermon Title.  This is because – Church Newsletter.  It is an odd challenge to know what you want to say BEFORE you start working on what you want to say. If you are me, you will have a great title and several weeks later when you need to really write the thing, you will be amazed that you actually thought there was anything there there. 

Blessedly, hardly anyone but the church secretary remembers what a church newsletter says.  Also blessedly, I’ve never met a church secretary who wasn’t smart as blazes, but they don’t broadcast what they know.

Next, you are probably not the most distracted sermon-writer ever, but you might be close. Maybe the Divine Almighty really wanted you to read eight pages of quotes by Mark Twain and then that cool essay about Manicheism in Jane Austen and - who knew you could still find most of the Calvin and Hobbes strips online? 

What I’m saying is that all writing requires amazing amounts of not surfing the internet – and writing a sermon is worse than that. 

Then again, if Jonathan Edwards had a smartphone, maybe our heritage could have been “Sinners in the Hands of a God Who, By the Looks of It, has a Marvelous Sense of Humor and Some Mighty Intrepid Love.”  ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was a sermon  preached by Edwards in 1741. He preached a terrifying Hell thus helping to tumble the American colonies into the Great Awakening of c. 1730–1755. To this day way too many Americans assume religion is about avoiding hell, instead of being welcomed into love, service, and community. Edwards gets a lot of credit for this craziness.)

So you write the thing, hopefully read it over enough to get it up to or down to about 12-17 minutes – and suddenly it’s Sunday morning.  Don’t eat much breakfast … and one cup of coffee is plenty, kids. If you hardly ever do this – or even if you do it every week – your insides are in Fright, Fight, and Flight mode - no matter how often you remind yourself these are just church-going humans, generally some of the nicest people on earth. 

Finally, there you are, standing somewhere in the vicinity of a pulpit. You start to talk, or read your script, of touch your points on your notecards, and you are doing it. You are preaching.

And even though it is so-so-so weird, it is also one of the coolest things I know. It’s like love out-loud.  You hope what you have to say invites those people out there to be brave and to have hope. You tell old stories they know, and the new ones only you knew but you want to share them now. You haul in poetry and promises written 3000 years ago and maybe parts of a rap you heard on YouTube in the past month.  You make points and describe scenes and invite people to seriously consider and respect their own lives and challenges.

It is the best thinking you have this week. You say it the best you can. You trust the moment. Because even though you have been circling this sermon for weeks, it no longer belongs to just you; it belongs to all of you in that sanctuary. Spirit, light, words. Together all of you make whatever is going to happen, happen. It is building an invisible ship and then sailing into the coming week on it.

About an hour later the hoopla and coffee is kaput. You go home. You eat a giant lunch and fall sleep all afternoon.





I totally will leave the preaching up to you. I can be your cheer leader. Love out loud - made me laugh. I’ll keep my love silent. You and what you do are awesome.
Mary Beth's picture

I appreciate your awe (hah).. since of all the humans I know, you and G knew me when I did this the FIRST time around...

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Love, Communicate, Show Up, & Love.

Our congregation is United Unitarian Universalist in Waukesha, WI. I only preach a couple times a year; it is the one of the hardest things it is my privilege to do. 

Sunday I preached to my congregation. The topic evolved as I was working on it during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, and as we learned more about the life and gentleness of George Floyd.

Here is my sermon in two forms. 

This is the service on YouTube: 

Sanctuary: Safety or Invitation? 10/7/2018

Sanctuary is Our Claim that Hope Can Become Truth  

 Sanctuary is more than a concept. Sanctuary is our claim that the realm of God and goodness is here, now, in this time and place. Sanctuary isn’t the room where we wait for things to get better. Sanctuary is the space where we claim peace and justice, hope and love right now, among us.

In sanctuary - hope becomes truth.


A Path of Integrity - Sermon

 I recently preached on the topic of Integrity. I had this sermon completed before Christmas because I wanted to not stress about it. Good for me. 

The day after Christmas I realized it wasn't "right."  I wasn't sure what was wrong, but as I do when I'm looking for more than I have, I delved into quotes by people I think know what I'm trying to figure out.  James Baldwin amazed me.  

Then I watched the movies I reference in the sermon. 

Then I wrote the sermon that is here. 

Sermon - Servants of the Quest

The park ranger described the paths one could choose to hike across the island. I picked the that one he said was the easiest.  When he was done talking, I walked to get a drink at a building that was a distance away, behind some trees. When I came back out, I couldn’t quite see what was a path and what was the field, so I walked back to where some people seemed to be hanging out. However, they were photographers and they weren’t going anywhere.

And that is how I got myself separated from all other humans who were going to be hiking across Bonaventure Island that day.

Where & What is Beauty?

This was this last Sunday’s service in the United Unitarian Universalist congregation in my town.  This was entirely written by five of us - the “United We Writers.” I told friends that I would post this on my website. The service was wonderfully received.

"No Felons Here"

I preached this sermon at United Unitarian Universalist /23/2019.

The photo is of the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist in Chicago. It's the church in which Len and I met and then married. We happened to be driving by earlier this year on a Sunday morning. They were voting that day on what to do with their building. I took this single picture with my phone, capturing the affection we all feel for our friends and fellow-journeyers in our congregations. 


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