“That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

I like sermons… listening to them, reading them, and preaching them. I enjoy planning and thinking through each turn, word play, and phrase.

While on sabbatical, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear some of my colleagues preach. Some of the messages were profound, joyful, and moving. Others had a point or two. Unfortunately, some were sadly lacking either in content or delivery. And finally, there were those that were just dreadful.

I remember one particularly bad one—in content and delivery. There was no way to say it but that it was simply horrible…until the end. Having already lost my attention on the preacher, I looked down the pew and saw the woman adjacent to me with tears in her eyes. As the preacher ended, she whispered quietly to herself but loud enough for me to hear, “That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

Her comment caused me to pause, and I realized that something very important had happened in that service.  She had come in need and somehow, some way, that poorly crafted sermon translated into a message that spoke to her heart and blessed her. On the other hand, I had come to judge and heard nothing but faults. That experience reminds me that it is holy ground when the preacher and the listener-in-need meet.

I try my best to bring a message that includes humor and theology with real life experiences so that the good news can be present and alive for you. Sometimes it absolutely does that on all fronts. Sometimes it doesn’t and falls flat. Often, it is somewhere in between those two.

But, let me suggest a radical thought…  My sermon on Sunday is never more important than yours. That’s right, this preacher who spends so much time studying the art of preaching admits my sermons are no more crucial than yours.

Visitors and long-time members have built-in expectations that I have little power over regarding my sermon. But the way in which you greet each other, the fashion in which you listen and reach out with care and compassion, the time you spend sharing grace, love, and support takes them by surprise. They simply don’t expect it. And they are more open to it than you can ever imagine. That is why I say that your sermon (that is, the way you represent Jesus in your words and deeds) each and every Sunday is as important as mine.

I don’t have to remind you that so many people next to you in church, at work, in line at the grocery store, are in need. They are listeners-in-need. In your words and deeds, what are you saying? Preach a good one this Sunday! Be the church!

Shalom, Paul