Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Sermon Response Can Make You Cry

For all the work we (should) put into sermons, rarely do we receive any response other than “great one today, preacher” or the ‘eyes cast down’ look as people pass you at the door when it doesn’t go well. We might never know the impact a sermon has an individual, so when you do receive meaningful feedback, cherish it. 

As part of the Worship Design Studio stewardship sermon series “Moving Out of Scare City”, I preached a sermon on Genesis 28:10-22 and 1st Timothy 6:17-19.  (

The sermon was about the violation of the human/divine relationship that occurred when the Church declared that within the confines of the sanctuary is the only place we meet God. Not only does this idea seek to take away direct laity-God relationships, but it limits the divine world to singular spaces. 

Carins I came upon while hiking
outside Estes Park, CO
We talked about the pillars of stone that Jacob builds to note the places he encountered God, and how this is replicated all over world, most notably in Ireland and Scotland where Carins, or stone pillars are built to make a place as holy. 

 Altars are built for that same reason: to designate a place as holy. Catholic, protestant, Buddhism, Hinduism and so many other traditions have altars. But altars are built of ordinary things: stone, wood, plastic, all becoming holy because of our experience with them. 

The sermon shared Barbara Brown Taylor’s notion that, “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish - separating spirit from flesh, secular from sacred, church from the world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinction between the two.” 
Every kitchen table, coffee table, park bench and sidewalk has the potential to be a place of divine connection and to be an altar.    

The wobbly old plant stand turned
communion table on which I served
communion to thousands of homeless
on the sidewalk over the years
A few days later I met with a young woman who had been at the church for the previous two Sundays. I knew she was from out of town, living in the hospital eating disorder unit as she recovered from anorexia. Being downtown, our church was walking distance from several hospitals, domestic violence shelters, and other residential treatment centers. We often had guests for a few weeks or months during treatment.

She shared that since my sermon, she began to see the dining table in the unit as an altar, and the food placed upon it as a sacred gift from God. With her journey towards healing linked to God, she was finally making progress and gaining a little weight. 

We cried together. Her at this step in her healing, me in humility that something I said had given her a new vision and was part of her transformational journey. 

We never know how our words will touch the people who hear them, but it is a gift to have the opportunity to speak them. Often church leadership does not understand the time and energy that goes into sermon crafting. They want you at meetings and at the youth group and teaching a class and visiting and volunteering. The sermon is only 20 minutes long, how long can it really take to write? An hour? Your sermons have the ability to transform lives, but only if you take seriously your role in sharing God’s word and put in the time and energy it deserves. 

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