At last I am getting around to blogging the sermon from last weekend, I have been extremely busy but I was also waiting to receive feedback forms so I could blog and full picture of the sermon and how it was received.
The Lectionary provided readings from James 1 and from Mark’s Gospel (7:1-8, 14, 15, 21-23). Having read both I settled on focussing the sermon on Mark 7 with the title “Clean and Unclean”. I focussed on how Jesus spoke about being transformed on the inside and this being as important as being clean on the outside. I looked at how living faithfully means so much more than just following a do and don’t list of life. Talked about how we can act out a Christian life but miss the real relationship with God; be too caught up in rituals and traditions to see what we need to do. I briefly reflected on the difference between obsessive behaviours and practical actions which can be important and useful. I spent some time on the meaning of defilement, how it could mean a lack of active relationship with God and how with God’s help we can remove our strong emotions and be more able to share true love with fellow men. I then took the sermon a step further than a proportion of the congregation were comfortable with (but I had been encouraged to do) and suggested that we ourselves are more concerned about our services and cantors and known styles than we are with the purpose behind them. That we could consider trying worship in a different form and see how God might speak to us.
I know that this is just a brief overview and that I have previously included detailed notes of sermons and even scanned mind maps, but this time I’m not going to. I can’t say exactly why, but I have this strong feeling that I need to leave the sermon where it was last week and move on. Yes learn from the fact that I gave it, but reflect instead on how it felt to receive congregational feedback face to face without request; something I wasn’t expecting.
1 – it is fantastic to discuss ideas, thoughts and content of a sermon with someone else before a service. I had the opportunity to plan it verbally with our associate clergy and she encouraged me to take the thoughts I had had further and provide a challenging sermon rather than a comfortable one.
2 – a sermon never comes out exactly as it was planned. I managed to forget a chunk about half way through (apparently no one noticed – I asked!) but it wasn’t right to go back and try and slot it in. I thought I would be able to push the envelope as far as I had discussed in my kitchen, it was clear that it would not have been appropriate on the day. Basically; sermons are written for a specific congregation in mind but I now know that you need to engage with the congregation and feel their emotions in order to gauge the sermon to them. I don’t feel that I “wimped out” on some of the even more challenging ideas, but that by providing them I would have been hitting them over the head. As it was, I raised questions and left them thinking which must be good, right?
3 – people actually come with their opinions after sermons. Seven people came up to me after the service with their opinions. They all started by being extremely positive about my style and the sermon overall; they then went into specific discussions about their thoughts. Some were excited about what they could do to change their prayer lives, some were scared, and some were completely opposed to what I had presented. The fascinating thing though was that these conversations were even more challenging than the sermon itself, they required me to think on my feet, to have backup to what I said and to have an opinion that I could debate. If beforehand I had been told I would need to do this I would have been petrified, but as it was I found it stimulating and filling and gave me a lot to reflect on. It was like a sermon to myself!
And the feedback forms. They were similar. They were all positive about my mannerisms and format and style. They all understood the aim and subject of the sermon. They were split as to whether they liked where I took them or not. And mostly they have also said how it got them thinking, and perhaps that is the aim of a sermon, to stay with people as they leave the church.