I preached this sermon for "Harvest Thanksgiving" Sunday. I was pleased with how it turned out. Usually I spend some hours reading some commentaries and engaging the text in a scholarly, post-critical way. But the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, Matthew 6.25-33, just didn't seem to ask for that from me, this time around. I did consider giving a meditation on gratitude, per se, and basically just take delight in cataloguing all the things people should be grateful for, but the real question for me was somewhat deeper. What is the relationship between detachment and gratitude? It would seem that they are somewhat contradictory, and I wanted to explore that.
In preparing for this sermon, I spent a long time puzzling over how to tell the stories that begin the sermon--particularly the first story. I didn't use a text, --that whole section appeared as a mere phrase on the mind map I was using as notes. But I had rehearsed telling the story multiple times and refined the exact language and details I would use. I was pleased with the results. Those of you who preach, I would highly recommend trying this method of honing a story--simply tell it again and again and find those details that ring most poetically. Another key, in my opinion, to good story telling in preaching is to be reading some fiction you find compelling. Right now I'm working my way through A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. If you want to be a better preacher, expose yourself to good narrative.
By the way, the image of the people preparing the funeral pyre by the river was based on my own experience of seeing such a cremation done in Nepal. I sat on a smooth river boulder, soaking my sore feet in the cool water, and watched the funeral rites about two hundred metres away. I was alone, and no one from the village spoke to me, but I found out later that our group's language teachers had asked after me, and that villagers had been moved by my quiet, respectful attention. Just watching, sometimes, is all we need do.