I have had a two-week break — one week celebrating a special birthday in Yorkshire and one week visiting our son in Canada.
Time off is always an opportunity to switch off for a bit, enjoy some leisurely meals, read a novel or two, watch a film, walk miles, and take the opportunity to stop, stare and get lots of pictures.
One in-flight film I watched was King Richard. The film focusses on the father of Venus and Serena Williams and his almost obsessive desire to make his daughters successful as tennis players.
His drive gained them a lucrative coaching deal but his imagination helped him realise that the best route to success might not be the most predictable one. The usual route for young tennis players was to travel around the junior tournaments but Richard observed that this often led to young players picking up career-threatening injuries or burning out. He insisted that his girls carried on their training in their mid-teens without the gruelling demands of the junior tour. The astonishing record of the Williams girls is a testament to the wisdom of that decision.
One of the novels I read was the slim winner of the 2022 Man Booker prize Treacle Walker. This is the peculiar story of a young man’s encounter with a rag and bone man called Treacle Walker, a mystical figure who speaks in riddles who has a mesmerising impact on his young companion.
Treacle Walker has a reputation as a healer, claiming that he can heal anything but jealousy! The whole book is a playful delight but the idea of healing anything apart from jealously began to work on my imagination.
I began to think about how tenacious jealousy is in our lives when it begins to get hold. Jealousy sticks to our lives as if it has been attached with superglue, however much we try we cannot get rid of it without God’s help. It was jealousy that led to the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel.
My imagination was also stirred by the latest Dr Who special. For sixty years the Doctor has been saving the world. This time it was from the joint threat of those Dr Who staples the Daleks and the Cybermen. It is a great feat of the imagination to take what is in effect the same storyline and repeat it again and again, but to do so in a way that continues to capture the imagination. That is of course the weekly task of the preacher.
Preachers seek to tell the old, old story in a fresh way for each successive generation. How do we do it?
It can only be done by constantly feeding the imagination. I often ask myself the question when I am preparing a sermon, “How can I preach this text in a fresh way, so that it is reassuringly familiar, yet unpredictable?”
The writers of the latest Dr Who managed to serve up a great final scene. The 13th Doctor is being regenerated into the 14th Doctor. And who will it be?
Dr Who fans have seen this happen 12 times before, but this time there is a twist- the 14th Doctor is in fact the 10th Doctor on repeat. To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the series, the actor David Tennant is reprising his role as Dr Who, alongside his sidekick played by Catherine Tate for three special episodes.
That’s what sermons need to be like, reassuringly familiar but with a twist in the tale.
Preachers: feed your imaginations. Your congregations will thank you for it.