by Heidi S. De Jonge
What do you do with twenty-five years of sermons?
A pastor died last year at the age of 54. His wife and children cleaned out his study a couple of months later. The pictures and mementos, they kept; the books, they passed on; the twenty-five years of sermons, they eventually decided to recycle. His wife kept the last sermon he’d preached and shared this tender office-emptying moment on Facebook.
I read her post and then went upstairs to get ready for bed. As my husband and I were brushing our teeth, I started to cry. I wept for this family and their loss. But I did not know them.
Where were these tears really coming from? It didn’t take long for me to realize that the tears were for the sermons. And not just his sermons. My sermons. My fifteen years of ink-drenched manuscripts, carefully tucked into bulletins and filed in folders of six-month groupings. Are my sermons just waiting there in my file cabinet until that moment forty (or four?) years from now when my husband and daughters place them gently, but necessarily into a recycling bin?
I am a collector (my strengths-finder profile confirms it). My collection of sermons ranks perhaps second only to my collection of diaries (1986-2011). I also keep my prayer journals. My planners. And a few years ago, my mom gave me three huge scrapbooks filled with every mention she had ever made of me in her diaries, typed in columns and supplemented with corresponding photographs.
I have felt a mild shame at how important these collections are to me – how close I come to believing that the unwritten prayer has not been prayed, the unrecorded day has not been lived, the unfiled and unkept sermon has not been preached. Why do I hold so tightly to these records?
Two moments have helped me to reframe and understand these collections.
One moment: learning from my spiritual director, Sister Lucy, her concept of a “collection of graces.” When people journey with her on a spiritual retreat, she encourages them to “collect the graces” of their experience (Scripture verses, insights, ideas) on 3×5 cards or in a journal for the purpose of later reflection on God’s grace. Are not my collections of writing, collections of graces?
The other moment: between teeth brushing and flossing that night of tears over recycled sermons, my husband, Tim, wondered if the eternal value of my preaching was not hidden away in a file cabinet, but in the lives of people who had heard God’s word spoken in ways that brought them closer to God, to their neighbours, to the world. It is not the pages, Heidi. It’s the people.
I suppose my favourite “collection of graces” is the collection of people, not so much whose lives I’ve touched, but whose lives have touched mine. And they are not so much collected or kept by me, as they are collected by God – who keeps, who remembers.
A couple of years ago, Sister Lucy introduced me to a verse I now treasure: Malachi 3:16. She gave it to me for the beauty of the first sentence, to use as a frame for group prayer: Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. But it is the second sentence that blesses my love for people and record-keeping and mixes it with God’s love for people and record-keeping: A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
One day, may it be said of us…
You have come to Mount Zion,
to the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem.
You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels
in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn,
whose names are written in heaven.
Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She has been in ministry for 12 years. Her husband, Tim, is a CRC chaplain, serving in long term care, and together they parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.