Preachers operate at a number of levels in every sermon.
We connect the following worlds:
The world of unbelief or indifference.This is a climate of hostility, suspicion and boredom. Such a world, if it notices preachers at all, will dismiss them with a cruel putdown or an undisguised yawn.
The comedian Marcus Brigstock, asked in the Times which book he wished he had written, replied, “The Bible. It’s an absolute bestseller, so I’d be quids in! I’d also edit out the stuff about woman, children, sex, slavery and the celebration of mass murder. It’d be a good deal shorter with more gags.” (My Cultural Fix in The Times Saturday Review Saturday Jun 11 2022).
This is the world that most of our hearers embrace or inhabit in their everyday lives.
The world of faith and hope. This is the climate that is shaped by the recognition that there is more to the universe than meets the eye.
Ironically it is the world of unbelief that often steals a march on wonder when it comes to reflecting on the marvels of the universe. Some preachers can be so wrapped up in arguments about how long it took God the create everything to have time left over to be lost in wonder, love and praise when viewing that creation.
And that is the nub of the problem. When we look at creation, we are almost in the situation of those who visit what remains of Greek or Roman architecture. Enough remains to leave us breathless with wonder at the sheer scale of the technical skill required to build it all but also the sense that what we are seeing is a pale shadow of what it was like in all its glory. It is that word ‘glory’ that Paul uses in the famous verse in Romans 3:23: “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Preachers need to remember that everybody it a combination of dust and glory, made for another world but still operating in this one.
I was reminded of this when reading Glen Scrivener’s excellent book The Air We Breathe. (My review here).
In the book Glen reminds the reader that many of the things we value in Western civilisation have been shaped by the Christianity.
This has been a theme used in a number of sermons at the time of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. I agree that it is important to know the connections between Christianity and the Queen and British culture. Yet as Glen is quick to remind us, there are skeletons in Christianity’s cupboard. The same boats that carried missionaries to Africa, carried slaves to the Americas. We gave the colonies the Bible but snatched their land. We taught the faith to millions of children but turned a blind eye to industrial scale of abuse of children.
Preachers need to be honest about these facts.
Yet as Glen so wisely concludes, the yardstick by which Christianity is judged for its failures is created by the standards that Christianity has shaped. Being honest in what we say about culture gives an authentic edge to what we have to say. The hearer is always subconsciously thinking:
“Can I trust this preacher?”