Fed up with sermons

shocked
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

Yes, really.

I am fed up with sermons.

That’s probably not what a Regional Minister ought to have as the title for one of his bloggages. But I am honestly fed up with sermons.

Not, I hasten to add, in the usual sense of that phrase! (Put the stones down…)

I am fed up with sermons because when I sit and listen to a sermon I get fed. Unbelievably that even happens when I am preaching a sermon myself. God’s Spirit takes the human being who is stood at the front and uses them to nourish those who are listening. (I recognise that not everybody who is sat in the congregation is actually paying attention – and nowadays you don’t even have to be present as lots of sermons are recorded and put on church websites). Somehow a miracle happens when God’s Spirit takes words that are spoken by one person and applies and interprets them into the lives of those who are listening in different ways. The same words can have a different impact. Indeed sometimes when I have been preaching he has somehow fed someone with words and meaning that I didn’t use! I believe that’s a miracle.

But I am not just fed by sermons, I am fed up. Any sermon in church that points me towards God has, in my view, achieved its purpose. It should make us look upwards. I was reminded of that on Sunday when I was speaking from John 21 and pointed out that while the message I was giving was about fresh starts, the subject of the passage is Jesus Christ – risen, meeting with his friends, renovating Peter and offering the same fresh beginnings to all who seek them. If when I preach one of my sermons it fails to make people look up (metaphorically and spiritually) then I have failed the main objective.

A long time ago there was some correspondence in The Times about the value of sermons. Someone had written a letter to ask about the point of sermons as he had been going to church for over 30 years and could not remember one of them. The correspondence went back and forth on this subject for a while with people defending or attacking sermons. The correspondence was ended when someone wrote that they had been eating Sunday lunches for the past 30 years and while they couldn’t remember any of them they were pretty sure that they had done them some good.

I like that.

It makes me smile.

It’s a gentle but wise answer, seasoned with a touch of levity.

But…

(didn’t you know there would be a ‘but’?)

How many of you eat Sunday lunch and then don’t eat anything for the rest of the week? Could you survive like that?

So why do so many Christians think they can do that spiritually?

How are you nourished daily?

There are many online resources nowadays: you can get emails daily to your email inbox from organisations like Scripture Union’s WordLive, Bible apps on your phone  or tablet like YouVersion and there are Bible websites like Bible Gateway. There’s no reason why we can’t be fed daily. Is there?

Be blessed, be a blessing

recycling

RecycleI think we mostly agree that recycling is a good thing. It saves resources and reduces wastage. We may find it a hassle when we have to sort out our cardboard and paper from our plastics from our tins from our bottles from our garden waste from our food waste from our non-recyclables but on the whole it’s worth the effort. I have been surprised at how empty our non-recyclable bin bags are now that we recycle all of the above.

With my magic shows I like to vary the content and perform different illusions, but (unless I learn a new trick) I am choosing from the same illusions each time although I may adjust the way in which I present them.

But when it comes to recycling sermons and resources that I have previously used I am much more reticent. And I am wondering why that is. I think it is because I feel that each time I preach it should be prepared fresh for each group of people who are listening (and those who are sleeping too). That way God can say what he wants to those people without being limited to what I have used before.

Yet at the same time I wonder whether that is necessarily fair on him. After all we don’t re-write the songs and hymns we sing each time. We don’t re-write the Bible (heaven forbid!). Resources like the Alpha Course are used and re-used effectively without change. Now I am not claiming at my sermons have the same timeless quality as the best hymns and songs, nor that they have the same authority and authenticity as the Bible, or the universal appeal of Alpha. No, no, no. Anyone who has heard one of them will confirm that! However, perhaps I am also limiting God. Am I suggesting in my ‘bespoke’ approach that God can only speak through a sermon or resource once and that after that he is incapable of speaking further and that the sermon or resource is now an empty shell – like a bullet cartridge after it has been fired? That seems wrong too.

You may detect that I am in a bit of a quandary here. It is not something that I had to consider much in a local church as each week required a new sermon. The one time I was pushed for time and re-preached an old sermon someone came up and told me that I had, because they kept written notes! (They were not criticising, just observing). But in my trans-local role where I am not often in the same churches there is the possibility of recycling old sermons and resources. If it is laziness that is my motivation then I must resist it. But it could also be that the message God wanted me to deliver in one church is the same message he wants for other churches.

The ‘compromise’ I have reached is that if I am going to preach on a passage or theme that I have preached on before I will seek to use existing material in the same way that I use books and other resources. I won’t re-preach verbatim but will prayerfully see if some of what has been prepared before is of help this time. That is a form of recycling with which I am comfortable.

What messages from God might he be asking you to recycle?

Be blessed, be a blessing

news

I think I may have mentioned before that I used to love the start of the new term at school. It was the newness of everything that I loved, particularly at the start of a new school year but also at the start of the term. I used to love having new pens and other stationery equipment, or perhaps even a new calculator. You might get a new exercise book or start with a fresh ring binder. And occasionally you even got a new teacher thrown in for good measure.

StationeryI think it is for this reason that I enjoy the start of a new preaching series. I don’t generally have new pens, stationary equipment or teachers (although I might treat myself to new commentaries or other books if needed) so the excitement is not really to do with tangible newness. It is the freshness and new possibilities that are contained in a new series that I find invigorating.

Planning a series is a time-consuming task but it is also pregnant with possibilities and therefore is also quite special. As different themes and series are considered and perhaps discarded or put on the backburner the messages from those themes remain with me even if they will not be used currently.

So you can imagine my excitement levels are quite high given that on Sunday we will start two new series! Those who attend our church will be relieved to know that they are not both in the same service. In the mornings we are starting a series entitled “life in all its fullness”, looking at how Jesus wants his followers to live. In the evenings we will begin a series looking at the book of Acts entitled (with a certain homage to Star Wars) “a new Hope”.

I was ordained in 1994 and must have preached 6 or 700 sermons in that time (I have been blessed by being part of team Ministry and working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain in their national office, which is why the number is less than it might have been). Yet there is always something fresh and exciting in the Bible. Even looking at the same passage in the Bible reveals different things each time. This is because it is a living book not a dead text. The same Spirit of God who inspired its writing inspired its reading and its preaching.

Hope you will find something fresh from God in these series if you’re able to join us (or if you listen to them online from our website (now more accessible from tablets and phones)). And if you don’t come to a church and don’t listen to our sermons I pray that you will still find something fresh from God if you open the pages of your Bible.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man and his ten-year-old son were on a fishing trip miles from home. At the boy’s insistence, they decided to attend the Sunday worship service at a small rural church. The father forgot to bring any cash, so he reached in his pocket and gave his son a ten pence coin to drop in the offering plate as it was passed.

As they walked back to their car after the service, the father complained. “The service was too long,” he lamented. “The sermon was boring, and the singing was off key.”

Finally the boy said, “Dad, I thought it was pretty good for ten pence.”