This Sunday I preached a sermon written by my wife. People ask us sometimes if we share sermons. We rarely do. We preach in different settings and we usually see different things in the lectionary that we want to address. We have been known to fight over good illustrations, however.
The sermon in question began last week when Cynthia said she wanted something different for their outdoor service. I suddenly remembered something lodged in my brain from about ten years ago. A church member back then told me of a sermon preached by a pastor in Texas that had an unusual beginning. It was the pastor's first sermon in the church and he began with a re-telling of the story of the three pigs. These pigs, however, went out to build churches, one using memories, one using dreams, and I forgot what the third one was.
Cynthia liked the idea and we came up with a) people's desires, b) right belief, and c) people who love. Off she went to write, and wow, I think she nailed it. After reading it, I knew I was going to use it myself, for our Tailgate Sunday. You can read it here.
I guess the story idea really belongs to that preacher in Texas, but ideas and sermons evolve. Since it is story form it would kill the effect to say, this idea is not original. But some might say you have to give proper credit. Guess I feel differently about it. I fully understand the guidelines of attribution and plagiarism in the academic world. You should be evaluated on your own work.
But I've got a question about the way it all shakes out in the practice of preaching. In a real sense, we all need to do our own work. But our own work is usually an amalgamation of things we've heard and read throughout our lives. Seems to me that as long as we're all trying to proclaim the good news as best we can, there's not much of an issue over the common usage. There are a lot of "borrowed" stories and ideas that circulate. It's the whole issue of personal credit or profit from the material that generates the problem. If I want to reap personal benefits from my material, I've got to put a fence around it to keep others from tracking across it. And when I've done that, am I still "preaching?"