Thursday, 24 December 2015

What do people really need to hear

They say that the person who should listen most closely to a sermon is the preacher themselves. They also say that a preacher really has only one message and that they dress it up in different ways. I became all too conscious of this some years ago when preaching for about four consecutive Sundays after Easter, and even I got bored of hearing myself say, in yet another way, "What difference is knowing Jesus going to make in your life?" Of whom was I really asking that question?

In fact, the only message I believe I really have for people when I preach is that God loves them. I preach it a lot from the pulpit but it is always interesting to note that, even though I may have said it thirty or forty times, there is regularly someone who will have heard it those thirty or forty times who, on that particular thirty-first/forty-first time will hear it as if it had never been said before in their hearing. God moves in a mysterious way, thus we may all need to hear something more than once before it finds its place in our mind or our heart. Praise be to the preacher who keeps on 'banging on' about God's love to me (even if it is me, because, as I said at the start... 'They say that the person who should listen most closely to a sermon is the preacher themselves.')

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve, having only set to writing my Christmas Sermon yesterday evening. Christmas Sermons are possibly the hardest ones to write as it is to an 'audience' of people who have come a) because if they come at Midnight they won't need to go on Christmas Day and it means it will be easier to fit everything into the day, or b) because it's what they do, it's tradition and they want to keep the tradition alive, or c) because the church is on the way home from the pub and the lights are on and they remember going to church once when they were at school and it seemed like a nice thing to do back then, so why not have a look and see what they are up to now, or d) because they've seen the notices up on the board outside the church and decided this is the year to brave going inside, even if they haven't got a clue what they are meant to say or do once they get inside the door or e) they are lonely, sad, depressed and want some company or... a whole multitude of other reasons... but it is an audience of people, many of whom who will not be regular at church (more than once a year regular, that is) and who want to hear something that is warm and affirming and, perhaps, not too challenging - but that is not always the case and, to assume it is, would be to be patronising and incorrect. Regulars, irregular regulars, regular irregulars - and preachers too - we all need to hear a clear message that Christmas is about God's love for the world and that this love makes a difference. It made a difference 2,000 years ago and it continues to make a difference today.

There are those who are able to preach much more erudite sermons that me, gifted intellectuals and spirit-filled individuals whose gift when speaking from the pulpit (or other preaching point) will raise the spirits and cheer the souls of those who hear them. They will also deliver a challenge, pack a punch, or deliver a clarion call that galvanises people into action, into prayer, into a place of recognising all that God has done in their lives and that God can do through them in the lives of others. If you are somewhere where you hear such a preacher, be blessed in the words you hear and the good action you are propelled towards taking. If you are somewhere where the preaching does not move or inspire you, pray that God will lead you beyond the foibles and failings of the preacher (who will know the message they want to give - that they need to give - but will not have quite found the words to express it). Pray that God will guide you (and the preacher too) to what God wants you to hear - what God needs to you hear - and may this message be one of love, a love that leads you to life, light and holiness in whatever form of response and action it may take.

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