When I stepped into church as a visitor on Sunday morning I was asked if I wanted a pencil to take notes on the sermon. Personally, I don’t generally take notes but prefer to concentrate on the sermon, allowing it to address me in the moment.
What do you remember from last Sunday’s sermon?
Some people remember nothing. Others remember something from the biblical text upon which the sermon was based. Still others will find that a story used in the sermon will stick in their memory.
Speaking to several of the congregation last Sunday, the thing that they all remembered was one evocative throwaway line. The preacher said that the church was less like a showroom and more like a workshop. This simple statement brilliantly captured what it means to be part of a real church.
As a church our aim is not to put perfect lives on display. Christians have faults, questions and problems. The church is not a showroom where not one hair is out of place and everyone seems to have it all together. When this is the overwhelming message of a sermon, or its unspoken assumption, hearers, especially those new to the church, can feel that they will never make the grade!
Yet the preacher who portrays the church as a workshop, where everyone is still a work in progress, will help hearers begin to imagine that they too can be changed.
The TV show The Repair Shop invites people to bring important items from their family that are not quite what they once were. It might be a beautiful book that has a damaged leather cover, a teddy bear with a missing eye, a chiming clock that is not working or an ancient suitcase with broken locks. The Repair Shop team are not expecting people to bring things that are brand new or in pristine condition. They specialise in breathing life into precious things that are now past their best.
That is the gospel of grace that brings beauty and order to those things that are broken or chaotic.
It is what Paul seems to be driving at when he speaks of this grace at work in salvation.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
This God invites us, not to press our noses against the shop window to see everything shiny and new, but invites us into his workshop where he delights to fix what is broken.
The New English Bible translates the statement about us being God’s handiwork as “We are God’s work of art!”
I love that God’s grace can turn what is ugly into something that is beautiful.
If we as preachers are to persuade people to take notice of this message, we need to avoid pointing fingers at people. Wise preaching does not crush people with impossible ideals but encourages people with the possibilities of grace. Everyone, including the preacher is a work in progress. We need to hear that!