Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Christians and Christian-ettes

I have been mulling and praying over a two page list of 'observations' complaints about me from a parishioner claiming to speak, in the person's own words, for "everyone". Among the complaints there is one claiming I preach for too long. This reminds me of one high ranking clergyman reportedly saying that one should preach for no more than seven minutes is long. In support of his argument he quoted the well known saying "if you haven't struck oil in seven minutes stop boring."

That is, to say the least, rather simplistic, and if I am honest, rather sad because it actually says more about the person and his attitude towards the Gospel than it says about sermons. Surely the Gospel message is worth more than seven minutes of proclaiming and explaining? Surely talking about such difficult subjects as gay marriage, the problem of evil and suffering, the message of Romans or how to apply the story of Noah requires more than seven minutes to do them  - or indeed God - any kind of justice?

What really worries me is that this is the kind of advice all too many clergy have been given about preaching. In fact this mindset has so infiltrated the church that it's no wonder we have churches full of spiritually stilted people who have little love or knowledge of the gospel let alone a desire to share it with others. So when some articulate atheist or honestly seeking agnostic asks them even the simplest question or challenges their knowledge or faith, they shy away from answering or refer them to the vicar who himself is equally unsure because he hasn't been taking the time to prepare his messages beyond the level of some half-baked sound bite!

In counteraction to the above quote about oil then, here is another: "sermonettes make Christianettes"  or pigmy sermons make pigmy Christians. To make a virtue out of preaching short sermons seems to me to have missed the point entirely. What are sermons for? Is it just to fill a slot before the real stuff - the Eucharist? Is it an onerous duty to discharge as quickly and painlessly as possible? Or is it the opportunity to share something really important and significant that can become, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the means of the spiritual transformation of an individual or congregation?

So my answer to clergy and critic alike is that I passionately believe in the sermon and although there will probably be many apologies that I need to make about the things I get wrong, preaching 20 minute sermons is not among them. In fact if the Holy Spirit catches my sails - and I pray He does - 20 minutes may not be nearly enough!

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