The story is told of a Scottish reverend who went out one day to visit his parishioners. When he entered a local shop, the proprietress immediately thanked him for the wonderful sermon that he had preached a fortnight ago.
Now the reverend was wary of attempts at flattery, so he questioned her about the topic of the sermon. She could not remember. What Scriptures had he read? She could not remember. “All I remember,” she said, “is that I came home and took the false bottom out of my bushel measure.”
I am inclined to believe that we are all like this Scottish lady. The sermons that do us the most good are not the ones we remember. If a particular sermon remains etched in our mind many years later, it is quite likely for the wrong reasons.
In my younger years I heard many sermons in the little Anglican church in our small prairie town. I expect that most of them were sound expositions of Scripture and laid a foundation that I would build upon in later years, after my conversion. I don’t remember any, except two that were delivered by the Reverend Mr. Higginbotham. Reverend Higginbotham and his young family had come straight from England, the home of all that was right and proper, and had been dropped into rural Saskatchewan, populated by sturdy, rustic folk who knew nothing of the finer things of life – or so it seemed in Reverend Higginbotham’s eyes at least.
One Sunday morning he felt pressed to share the burden that had been growing on his heart for some time. Hockey, he told us, is a wicked, sinful game, not fit for Christians to play. It would be far better if we would play a sport that is known for virtuous conduct and gentlemanly behaviour. That sport was cricket. He spent a good twenty minutes expounding warmly upon this theme, then brought the service to a close.
Everyone listened politely; there were no snickers or snorts of indignation. And then the Reverend Mr. Higginbotham carried on playing his beloved cricket with a team in a city an hour away, and everyone one else carried on playing hockey in the local arena. I never heard any disparaging words about the sermon or the good Reverend. Nevertheless, I suspect that I am not the only one who still chuckles quietly today at the memory of that message.
This message had three strikes against it:
Strike One: there was no solid Scripture text to give weight to the message. Without the weight of Scripture a sermon will float up into the clouds and vanish from sight.
Strike Two: there was no understanding of local history and culture, no understanding of how the local people felt, or why they did the things they did. He was trying to lob his message through an invisible wall separating the two cultures and seemed completely unaware of the existence of the wall.
Strike Three: there was an assumption of superiority. Much as he may have thought that he had some superior virtues to teach us, that supercilious assumption gave his message a certain aroma that no one found attractive.
Higginbotham was not the Reverend’s real name. He meant well, was rather likeable, but never really connected with the congregation. His wife, on the other hand, was loved and appreciated by all.
The preacher who doesn’t strike out at the pulpit is one who can relate to the needs of his congregation because he is very much aware of his own needs. He does not feel that he has the answers, but finds answers in the Word of God for his own need and for the needs of his congregation.