CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
It is Sunday morning, and I am getting prepared for worship. Trying to, anyway. For 50 years I had to prepare to preach the Word. Now I have to prepare to hear it. I think that’s harder.
In the years of our retirement, following the grandchildren from city to town, we have been a part of four churches. Together they’ve had eight pastors. Each one required a different sort of preparation in order to hear.
Preparation is required because it is hard for a preacher to trust the congregation, and it’s hard for a congregation to trust the preacher.
When I first started preaching I read this: Someone suffers with each sermon, either the preacher as s/he prepares it, or the congregation as they listen to it.”
Sometimes, though, even if the preacher has not suffered enough in preparation, someone in the congregation is prepared to hear. I remember the story of an especially pedestrian preacher, noted for his boring style, who was confronted by a man after the service. “That sermon changed my life,” he said. The preacher was astounded. No one had ever told him that before. “When in the sermon did that happen?” he asked. “When you said, ‘I have finished the first part of my sermon and I shall now go on to the second part.’ I realized that I had finished the first part of my life and I had to go on to the second part.”
Nothing could be more boring than “I have now finished the first part and…” but that man in the pew was prepared to hear.
So preachers, in your preparation, prepare to trust us. You don’t have to harangue us. We are there because we want to hear the Word, the word about the second part. Tell us a story that allows us to find our place in it. We can do that. You don’t have to shove us. Trust us.
So listeners, in our preparation, prepare to trust the preacher. Yes, maybe s/he will be pedestrian and boring this Sunday, but if we’re prepared, we will hear the Spirit speak to us in otherwise empty words, regardless.
There is no particular way to prepare. Each person has a different way, from a mother’s hurried prayer as she gets the children out the door, to an addict’s desperate vigil in the night, to a monk’s hours of meditation, but if we prepare, whatever the method, we can trust.
Trust is not automatic, but if we prepare, the trust of the preacher and of the listeners will come, and we’ll see that we are really trusting God.
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
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