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Packing a Punch

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

In a year or two most people will not remember who won an Oscar in 2022, but everyone will remember that punch!

As it happens, it was the winner of the best actor award who threw the punch, but it will be the swing on the stage rather than the film on the screen that will stick in the memory.

Everyone was taken by surprise; they assumed it was a set up, but no, it was real.

Will Smith felt that his wife had been insulted by the comedian Chris Rock, so up on the stage bounded Will Smith and hit him.

I can’t help thinking that as a preacher I have probably got off lightly in not getting punched after over forty years of preaching! Is this because I have always been wise, or is this because some people have not been listening?

It is interesting that when people talk about telling a joke they speak about the punch line. For Chris Rock at the Oscars, the punchline, was literally the punch line!

The comedian’s words certainly made an impact, but not the one he was expecting.

Writing this on a Monday I am wondering what the congregation remembers from my sermon yesterday. Was it the deep reflection on God’s word, the engaging stories or the careful application? Perhaps it was none of these. Maybe it was the ill-judged aside, the sloppy words or weak argument.

Preachers need to be aware that the words we speak can land differently in different contexts. What we think is clever can come over as cruel, what we think is insightful can sound irritating, and what we think is smart can come over as sarcastic.

In any act of communication, we need to remember that what we say and what people hear can be very different things. For this reason, we need to be very careful about the words we choose to speak.

I agree with Tim Hawkins when he says that:

“The two most important lines in your message are the first and the last.”

If we get those two lines right and all the ones in the middle match up, we are on to a winner. Of course, this is easier said than done. In the first decade of my pastoral ministry I used to write out my sermons more or less word for word. Over the years I have tended to prepare the substance of the message but exercise a measure of freedom in how I express that message in the moment.

This requires me to develop instincts in my preaching that help me to be careful to speak truth in a faithful but kind way. Yes, truth sometimes hurts but its intention is not to hurt but heal.

I think about the time when the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus but were unable to lay a hand on him. When the authorities asked them why they were unsuccessful, they replied:

“No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:48)

We have a crisis of speech in the 21st Century. Words have become weapons. These weapons stir up anger. We need to develop a form of speech that packs a punch of peace.

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