Summary: Third and last in series How to Listen to a Sermon, Dave explains what is the most important part of the whole process.
The Most Important Piece
How to Listen to a Sermon, prt. 3
Wildwind Community Church
January 30, 2011
Today I’m going to wrap up our brief series on how to listen to a sermon. I want to start by summarizing what we have covered so far. In part one we dealt with the issue of receptivity. Jesus said that the reason he spoke in parables was to nudge people toward receptive insight. So more important than what is being said is your receptivity to it. Last week in part two I dealt with the idea of mystery – how this thing is so much bigger than any of us, how we are all constantly in a state of flux in terms of the specific content of our beliefs and capacities to understand anyway, so God better be in here. God better be making something happen in you, because if this thing depends on whether you agree with everything I’m saying, you’re in big trouble, and so am I. So there’s mystery – this unseen presence of God, the Spirit, hovering over the surface of the water of our lives.
I want to conclude today by looking at the single most important part of hearing a sermon, and that part is you. After all, I am not speaking into a vacuum. Preaching is only fun, it’s only interesting, when there is a human audience. Basketball is played in front of basketball fans. Biology lectures are delivered in front of biology students. Sales training events are done for salespeople. And sermons are preached, hopefully, for spiritually interested, receptive people. You are the critical point of engagement with what is being said in this room every week. Without you, there IS no sermon. Without you, there is only a blog post, or an essay, or an article. Without you, the words never come off the page and move directly into human ears, and hopefully beyond ears into hearts and minds and lives.
But the ears are yours, and so are the hearts, and so are the minds, and so are the lives. So how are you preparing your ears, and your heart, and your mind for our time together each week? I can tell you what my sermon prep time looks like every week. What does your sermon prep time look like? If a sermon is a bottle of wine, what are you doing with the wine every week? Are you a guzzler, or a savoror? See, wine can either connect you to life and to romance and love, or it can get you hammered. It can do both quite well, and it depends entirely on how you approach it. Whether you guzzle it or savor it, it will taste basically the same, but it will have very different effects on you and will be a very different experience.
Most sermon-listeners are guzzlers. They get up late on Sunday morning and are in chaos as they get ready for church. They might even argue with their spouse and kids. They get in here at the last minute and because they are late, they are frustrated to find that they have to sit closer to the front than usual because there’s a line to get into the last couple of rows. They make a note to themselves that you have to get here early in order to get the worst seats in the house. (People in the back rows, don’t feel uncomfortable – I’m being facetious obviously!) They kind of slog through worship time, sit there agreeing and disagreeing during the sermon (and either loving the pastor or finding the pastor offensive, depending on which it is), get their sermon notes after service, hang out with friends for a while, and then it’s out the door and back home. Guzzlers.
What would it look like to savor a sermon? It would begin with what we talked about last week – that we believe that God is at work, that God’s Spirit is moving and seeking to make a connection with us at every moment. A sermon is 30 minutes a week where we have an opportunity to be genuinely and intentionally open to this in a very focused way. So savoring a sermon on Sunday would begin during the week. Getting stuff done during the week so Sunday could truly be a day of rest. Countering the hecticness of Sunday morning by anticipating and preparing during the week for its challenges, and intentionally clearing one’s schedule for the day. Savoring the Sunday sermon would then involve getting to bed at a reasonable time on Saturday evening. If you don’t do this, you will probably sleep in too late on Sunday and either end up skipping church altogether, or getting up late and dealing with all the ensuing chaos. So you get to bed at a decent time. Now I’m gonna throw you a big curveball, you ready? Since you are the most important piece in this puzzle, and since you have prepared yourself all week not simply for this 30 minute sermon but for the entire Sabbath day, and since you have gotten to bed on time and you now wake feeling rested, what do you do in the morning? Do you get up and start jamming Lady Gaga while you get ready for church? Do you try to get a few more nails pounded on that project you’re doing outside before you leave? Or do you set this day apart? Because what 1) you could do is prepare your mind and heart for what God wants to do in church that morning. 2) You could maintain a quietness in your home (if possible). 3) You could spend a few moments in prayer . Better yet, in my opinion, spend ten or twenty minutes in silent prayer, just cultivating quiet in your own heart. In other words, you begin to get yourself ready to listen! You get into a listening frame of mind. You connect to God.