Today we had a guest preacher. Whenever that happens its to be expected that we will hear the sermon equivalent of a stump speech. Some stump sermons are outstanding. Honed over years of delivery, if the hook and lever are workable, a gifted guest preacher and his stump sermon can be a fresh breath of air.
Today’s was better than average, and like most, was a sort of back to basics lesson about God’s presence in life, good and bad days,…like that. When it is time to make it personal for the crowd preachers start using generic examples, like, “Well Lord, my brother was ill and we prayed and prayed and we ended up burying him last month”, or “My child is off the rails in rebellion and has been for a few years, where are you God in this?” and finally “My husband ran off and won’t come back”.
The folks who read my prattling have seen me use the descriptor comfy chair as a way to describe how most people are content with their sound byte based views on things.These views never fail to bring nods all around in conversations after all. More, when a different view is articulated the person settled into the comfy chair of their shallow beliefs will deny the obvious in any form it is presented. They don’t want to sit on the wooden stool, they wanna stay in the comfy chair.
As the preacher was creating his examples its hard to fault him for the one he chose for marriage failure. He has only heard such examples used in his lifetime. Or if he ever used or heard used an example that was Christo-politically incorrect he learned quickly that he’d best not go there. So, husband leaves wife is the crisis he chose for marriage problems. The crowd heard three examples, and none of them stood out as different in any way. Cozy…those examples. Safe. A hand made wool throw added to the comfy chair, a crackling fire and some tea. Don’t mess with me, I’m warm, comfy, and my tea is steeped just right. A military man may well shout OOLONG! so compelling the imagery.
The choices made when constructing examples are immaterial when it is about a death of a loved one or about a child lost to the world. In other words he can say man, woman, child, adult, whatever and there is no value judgement buttressed or diluted. But the choice to have a man running away from his family as the marital collapse example is not without consequence, and the results are subtle yet extremely powerful. So powerful that it leaves marriage failure as the prime issue where churches allocate time and resources 180 degrees out of phase with how the statistics would suggest the issue be addressed.
The simple alternative would be just to have the wife leaving the husband. Think about the difference in the way the whole message would be perceived after the fact had he done that. Powerful truths, saving truths, could be put asunder by the choice of an example that ruffled the feathers of the gaggle of cacklers in the pews.
Lets crank it up further.
“You have been praying that your wife can break her addiction to pornography”, he may have said but for the fact that fifty shades of shit would hit the fan.
Examples either have power, or they fail to tap into righteous power that is available.
Similarly, most have seen the videos some churches use where members offer some testimony and express gratitude to God and to the church for walking them through some problem. Has anyone ever seen one of those videos that involved a man speaking about how his wife up and left and now praise God she is back? Yes? me too. But.
They always have the man weeping in confession to how he was not loving her as she deserved. They have men who were solid husbands wallowing in self effacement to make the point that ANY wife would have left him and thankfully he is now deemed worthy again.
Regardless what the topic of sermon, most involve using some generic examples. Weekly even the most expository type preachers will toss in a campy example or two, sometimes using specific people, sometimes using generic references. When these are buried amidst especially poignant topics it grieves me to imagine that but for choosing examples with fear in mind, the impact of even the best crafted message would be lost.
Butts would rather stay in comfy chairs than have to move to the wooden stool. The stool is a real pain in the ass.