Monday, January 19, 2009

Shine with the radiance of his glory

Almighty God,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

So, I had one of those moments yesterday.

A day after moving houses, living in chaos and confusion, it was a busy day at the parish. There was the usual Sunday morning service, of course. There was also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service in the afternoon, at which I would preside and preach.

In the morning, I spoke about vocation - about what God was calling us to be, both as individuals and as a community. I spoke about Samuel and Eli, and about Philip and Nathaniel. I tied it back to the collect of the day, suggesting that we had a responsibility to "shine with the radiance of [Christ's] glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth." There was more than just that, of course, but that line from the collect was, if you will, the refrain of the sermon.

After the Unity Octave service in the afternoon, a couple of my parishioners remarked about how they were happy to be there "to shine." It took me a minute, and they laughed as they observed: "You see, we were listening this morning."

A preacher wonders, Sunday after Sunday, whether the sermon is doing it's job in the service. Does it make the point? Does it do so in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible? Does it enhance the listeners' understanding of the gospel? Does it make a difference in their lives? Is anybody listening?

I'm told I'm a good preacher. I do try to keep to one of the central rules of preaching - it should be about God and about ten minutes. (Or, as Tommy Douglas put it, the mind can only absorb as long as the seat can endure.) I try to preach to the lectionary - usually to the gospel.

I'm told I'm a good preacher - but I'm never entirely convinced that's so.

Do other "good preachers" feel this way?


Brian R said...

Am not a good preacher, haven't preached in nearly 40 years but as a young man I told my rector I wanted to be a priest and could I occasionally read Morning or Evening Prayer. He believed in throwing me in at the deep end and said I was to preach in a few Sundays' time. However he also said, "If you go over 13 minutes I will stand and announce the next hymn. I wish many preachers had that rule. As a teacher where I did spend all of my working life, I knew even senior students could not listen for more than 15 minutes without some 'doing' activity. I wish many teachers would learn that.

parodie said...

When I was a child (maybe 10 or 12) and expressed frustration that a picture I'd drawn for art class hadn't looked, on paper, like the idea in my head, I was told that all artists feel that way a fair amount of the time. The reality never quite lives up to the ideal. I think preachers experience the same thing - and are, like many people, hard on themselves. :)

liturgy said...

I am a secondary school chaplain.
The primary liturgical principle for teenagers: it must be short!

I hope you'll consider linking your site to mine "Liturgy"
Let me know so I acknowledge that & link back.



Doorman-Priest said...

I hear this too. My fear is that I might get to believe it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I think this is where pastoral visiting comes into the picture. When I'm doing parish visits I will try to get feedback from my parishioners on my preaching. There are always surprises as to which sermon seemed to connect with this person or that person.

At the same time, there is the question of discerning which gifts one has as a priest. I think it helpful to have an honest and humble discernment of, and development of, the gift of preaching. I don't know if being good at it is exactly the same as being gifted at it...

Malcolm+ said...

As a tentmaker at the moment, I'm not doing much in the way of pastoral visiting, but that does seem a logical approach. I'm frequently astonished by what people will remember, even years later. (There was my now famous reference to Elijah as a pompous ass).

I'd be curious to hear more about yoour distinction between "good" and "gifted." I'm not sure what you're driving at.

Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure what I'm thinking either, Malcolm. But I find myself thinking along these lines: when I think in terms of things I'm good at, I think (for myself at least) that maybe a bit too much of my own ego, or identity, gets caught up in things. When I think of things I might be "gifted at", my ego tends to relax its hold a bit. It's just a little reflection I've been playing with over the last while, so it's still a work in progress.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why preachers don't seek out evaluations of their sermons. Trainers and those involved in adult education would never deliver a session without getting feedback through an evaluation form. Why does a preacher have to read tea leaves, eavesdrop at coffee hour or rely on anecdotal comments and complaints? How can he or she improve? Maybe it was different when everyone came to church no matter how bad the preaching.

Anonymous said...

anonymous - I think that is the point of connecting pastoral visiting with preaching. It allows for direct feeback.

A trickier part of preaching is that sometimes the message of the gospel offends or challenges. Some of the immediate feedback that Jesus received wasn't all that favourable!

Malcolm+ said...

Joseph's point is certainly well taken. If one is fulfilling the preacher's mandate to "afflict the comfortable," it is entirely likely that an excellent sermon would get poor reviews.

That said, my secular work is PR, and constant evaluation is the surest way to improvement.

I was struck by something our mutual friend Tim wrote on his blog about a week ago ( regarding the "field research" Rick Warren did in the lead-up to establishing Saddleback Church.

"Rick was going door to door in his neighbourhood. He wasn't selling Bibles, he was asking questions, four questions to be exact. I'm quoting from memory, but it seems to me that the four questions went something like this:

- 'Do you go to church?' (if the answer was 'yes', Rick wished them well and moved on).
- 'If you don't go to church, what's the main reason why not?'
- 'If you were to go to church, what sort of a church would you be likely to go to?'
- 'How could I as a pastor be helpful to you?'

The eventual design of Saddleback Church (the congregation, not the building) was based on the results of these two exercises - the Bible study and the survey. They were clear from the beginning that it was to be a church for unchurched people: the purpose was that people who were not Christians should come to faith in Jesus Christ and grow as his followers."

Even to the most inspired evangelist, God nonetheless gave two ears and one mouth. I'm really intrigued by Anonymous's suggestion about evaluation forms and other research tools - not just about the preaching but about everything.

After all, vox populi and all that.