Preaching is an adventure. It looks like a monologue, but works better as a dialogue; when preachers speak into the hearts and minds of congregations to invite them into God’s grace and truth. Yet could I coin the term “trialogue;” to embrace the reality that three personalities are involved.
“A sermon is a word from God to people about how to live,” is a college lecturer’s definition that shapes any sermon I prepare: neither verbal work of art; nor skilled performance; but opening my heart to my God and to my people – inviting them to also open their hearts to God’s grace.
Preparation is one thing, but delivery is another. Many preachers use full manuscripts, though I prefer to use points to allow for spontaneity and eye-contact with my congregation. For if I can’t remember what I have to say before I’ve said it, how can I expect them to remember it after I’ve said it?
Mostly this has worked well, but spontaneity can create interesting experiences - hence my alluding to increased pulse-rates within my title.
Once, when preaching about Matthew 5’s Beatitudes, I mentioned our own happiness in celebrating my parents’ golden wedding the day before. Delight swept the congregation, as I heard myself saying: “And this year we celebrate my grandfather’s one-hundredth birthday!”
As a much louder sigh greeted this news, my heart began racing. “How can I get out if this?” I asked myself; when the right words suddenly arrived: “Unfortunately, he won’t join our celebration; he died twenty-three years ago!”
The place erupted in enough laughter to ensure that nobody recalled the rest of my sermon.
More recently one Christmas, I was seeking to emphasise the shepherds’ terror at being suddenly bathed in light centuries before Edison had invented the incandescent bulb (which his critics had dismissed as a mere filament of his imagination!) Besides that, to be visited by angels was then considered to be a death sentence.
I intended to mention being almost shot dead at age sixteen, which would have been my own checkout to hell, before I became a Christian.
Instead, I felt prompted to offer a roving microphone for anyone to relate their most frightening moments, when they might have also faced a checkout with death.
One man described driving towards the setting sun and feeling two bumps under his car; before hearing a train come thundering through behind him, over a level crossing he had not seen!
A lady described her fear of waking one hot summer night, and seeing the red glow of fires all around the horizon, until she sensed God’s peace corroding her anxiety.
Then dear old Bob raised his hand. He was almost ninety and, after a deprived childhood in Cockney London, he’d been a paratrooper in the second-world-war and in Korea. He always spoke softly, so we were all ears...
“During the war,” he began, “I was in Palestine, and I jumped out of the plane – and my parachute didn’t open!”
There was a gasp, which Bob quickly defused as he wrapped up the episode with a memorable piece of understatement: “But then, about two hundred feet above the ground, it did open. And I was pleased.”
The gasp erupted in hilarity and wonder throughout the flock that morning, as Bob gently stole the show. Yet his warmth showed through.
I can’t recall how I followed his contribution, but his testimony was clear that only God knows when our final checkout time will arrive, however scary things might look at any point until that moment.
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