As a pastor, I’ve always aimed to offer a three-fold menu.
In sharing positive, biblical teaching, I enjoy helping people feed on God’s life-changing grace and truth, to develop their opportunities or to follow Him through their obstacles and turn these obstacles into opportunities for others to discover His grace.
It’s also fun to help them catch a vision of how their ministry gifts can extend God’s kingdom. And if our church cannot cater for their gifting, I like to validate any wider Christian service that they perform.
Most of all, I enjoy seeing members provide emotional nourishment by accepting people in Jesus’ name, whoever they are or wherever they are from. Potluck meals at church or in family gatherings can only enhance that welcome.
Against all of those positives, one particular Sunday was coming too quickly for me...
I was struggling with that first menu item, because the set reading was all too familiar - Genesis chapter eighteen - with angels visiting Abraham and Sarah to promise them that they were about to become first-time parents. No small feat for a couple in their nineties. And since we don’t have babies when we get into our fifties and sixties - because we’d keep forgetting where we’d put them – what hope would poor old Abraham and Sarah have?
“Preaching is a silent game of ‘catch-me-if-you-can.’” Our college lecturer’s warning often echoed in my mind, deflating the fantasy that our preaching would forever enthral our congregations. I know it takes special talent to make God’s Word dull and boring, but how could this sermon catch everyone when they knew the story so well?
Suddenly it came: Let’s bring it into the here and now, and explore how God can do impossible things with us. Let’s focus on how his love infuses the whole deal, so we have nothing to fear even when we are out of our depth. And let’s introduce it carefully…
How many times should I say, “Just imagine?”
I decided that three times would surely lock everyone’s radar onto the fact that my impending introduction would never stand up under oath.
It was exciting to see the points glide onto my sermon notes. Now next Sunday could not come soon enough!
My anticipation did not prepare me for losing old Flora – right off the bat - and far worse, having her proclaim her grief. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself…
Sunday arrived - right on time - and our worship flowed smoothly, right up to my steps into the pulpit.
Scanning the flock to catch every eye, I lifted off…
“Just imagine … just imagine … just imagine…
“Our major geriatric facility has just announced a fifteen-million dollar expansion - a whole new multi-floor wing with all the latest equipment and fully-qualified staff!”
In the second-back row, Flora’s eyes were shining. Yup, she was caught, and I was ready to reel her in…
I smiled. “But this wing will be just a tad different. It will be a maternity wing!”
Everyone roared with laughter - everyone but Flora. Her response slightly spoiled the effect.
“What a stupid waste of money!” she cried out. “What idiotic kind of government have we got?”
She was fuming. And she kept right on. Her volume faded slightly, but anytime I paused or dropped my tone, her muttering reappeared. I think the sermon covered the points I’d hoped to cover, and I know God was there; but my thought-flow felt as planned as a potluck dinner. Was her anger ambushing anyone else?
It was also hard to hear myself above a second, inaudible noise - the whoosh of air escaping from my rhetoric-balloon. But our final hymn and benediction eventually arrived, ushering in for me a moment to personally restore peace with Flora.
Sweetness and light returned.
But then Vicky came over to shake my hand - her face flushed. With laughter, as she explained, “You didn’t only lose Flora today. You left me behind too, because I stayed right there in the maternity wing. I couldn’t get that picture out of my mind, and I’m still laughing at the thought of all those elderly ladies in delivery rooms, while their husbands were shuffling around the waiting area with their walking frames!”
She walked away, still smiling.
Some you win.
Some you lose.
Others are just rained out.
Author’s note: this story is absolutely true.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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