Like many preachers, I went to bed Saturday night wishing my sermon was better. I had worked hard on it, but my last thought as I put my notes away was, “This needs about two more days of work.”
I was up early Sunday morning, and after making a cup of tea and feeding the dog, I sat down with my manuscript and was pleasantly surprised. “This is better than I thought!”
Then I remembered the Legend of Nicodemus.
George Buttrick, one of the great preachers of the mid-twentieth century, taught my first preaching class. In a lecture on avoiding the sin of pride, he suggested that sermon writing, like any creative endeavor, is a partnership with the Divine Creator. To illustrate his point, he told this story:
Nicodemus was a famous sculptor in ancient times. He had been hard at work on a commissioned statue, but late one day he botched the job. That night Nicodemus fell on sleep with a sad heart. While he slept, angels came and carved away his mistakes.
The next morning Nicodemus stood looking at the beautiful, finished statue and said, “I carved much better than I thought!”
Whenever we create something good, there is always an element of the creation that is beyond our capability. An artist friend calls this inspiration, meaning our art is infused with some element from beyond us. Creating is at some level a partnership with the Creator. It’s good to remember this, no matter what your art.
Otherwise, we become Nicodemus.
I was shaking hands with the congregation after worship, and someone offered a compliment along the lines of, “That was a really good message.”
“Thanks,” I responded, “Angels came and carved in the night.”