Friday, January 18, 2013
Listening to the Music
In ballroom dancing, there is a set leader and a set follower among the dancing duo. In our metaphor, the preacher is, by far, the leader in the sermon dance, and the listener is the follower in the sermon dance. Sometimes the listener needs the skill of Ginger Rogers dancing backward (in heels!) to transform a lackluster preacher's attempt to do justice to the grand music of God's word being played. It is a good thing in this situation that the listener hears the music directly, along with the preacher. Most preachers have had the experience of being thanked sincerely for saying something in a sermon that clearly they never actually said. Sometimes this is a good thing, the Holy Spirit singing something true and good directly to the hearer. Other times, it is a sign that the sound system, for whatever reasons, isn't working up to snuff, and something rather awful has been "heard."
I belabor this mixed dance duo metaphor in acknowledgement--and even hopefulness--that the preacher of the sermon I am about to describe did not actually say what I am about to describe. But--it is what an intelligent, generally reliable listener took away from the sermon and related to me. Something in this particular sound system is screwy, be it the transmitter or the receiver. As I said, I hope it was the receiver gone awry, but my hunch is that it was the transmitter.
The preacher in our anonymous church had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare a prop for the sermon, a big box, all nicely gift-wrapped. "This is God's best gift to you. Can you guess what's inside?" Polite, cooperative children in the congregation, each accustomed to the dialogic sermon experience, offered their guesses, each reflecting their own unique idea of what God's best gift would be in the big box. Nope, nope, nope.... What would be in the box? Maybe the statue of the infant Jesus had been hijacked temporarily from the outdoor creche? Would there be a large cross inside? Dramatic tension soared as the preacher, aided by the little hands of volunteers, slowly unwrapped the box, reached inside, and pulled out--a large, elaborately-framed mirror. The point of this Christmas-season sermon was that each child was God's best gift--to the world!
Forgive me while your faithful blogger here has a temporary melt-down pondering the ramifications of this sermon illustration. The hopes and fears of all the years are met---in what I see in the mirror? Who needs Christ if each person is already God's best gift to the world? What happens when that person falls short, can't make it, hits bottom? Where can a person praising the image of himself or herself go to repent, or worse, how can they ever even imagine a need to repent?
OK. So maybe, as I speculated above, the sermon was never actually preached quite in this way, that some nuance was missed, and that this "hearing" was idiosyncratic and just God's way of moving the listener (after several experiences like this) on to a church with a truer, more compatible sound system. Or maybe next week's sermon at this anonymous church balanced out the self-aggrandizement suggested by this unfortunate message. Sometimes, however, you just can't compensate for a partner with three left feet, and it is time to call it a night. Some gifts are just--wrong, and no matter how well-intentioned, must not be kept.
But the Music still plays on, elsewhere. Just please don't dance alone, for long....