Thanks to Mad Padre’s Man In Dublin for putting me on to this graphic from the Catholic Memes site.
My father, who was what in the old Anglican world was a “churchman”, once told his seminarian son that, in his experience, the sermon or homily was a ten to fifteen minute chance to rest with one’s eyelids lightly closed. My father spent much of his churchgoing life in the pews of small parishes where the homiletical bar was sometimes set low, but knew that the small church offered other compensations. My dad never lived to see the age of internet memes, and if he had he would have been scornful of me for trying to explain them to him, but I think he would have liked this one.
When I was a young and self-absorbed university lecturer, I would be driven to distraction by the sight of inattentive or sleeping faces in front of me. Twenty years later, as an older and, hopefully, wiser preacher, I don’t take it so personally. I realize that there are those who struggle to church despite a busy morning of childcare, or shift work, or who wrestle, as my dad did, with the deafness, fatigue, and the other gifts of old age. They still come, and their worship is pleasing to God. However, I also realize that their faithfulness, combined with the urgent demands of proclamation of the good news of Christ’s gospel, demands that the preacher gives of his or her best. I think of an Anglican colleague of mine who confided rather blithely that she composed her homily during the gradual hymn, and I wouldn’t blame her parishioners for falling asleep during the sermon. I probably would too.
For preachers out there who haven’t yet seen it, this video from the Working Preacher website from last week is worth four minutes of your time. Matt Skinner teaches New Testament at Luther Seminary and is one of the regulars on the Sermon Brainwave podcast. Skinner doesn’t say anything here that you probably didn’t (or should have) heard in your homiletics course, but it has some good advice for keeping your parishioners awake.