Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No One Comes Near

In my haiku post from the other day, I included what may or may not have been an eyebrow-raiser for some folks:

Father McKenzie
Sermons for non-attendees
Yes, no one comes near
I thought that I might offer an explanation for this one, lest it be mis-interpreted. I don't know how or if anyone will mis-interpret it, actually. But I wanted to give an explanation anyway.

First, maybe you got the allusion to The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby:"

Father McKenzie, writing the words
of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near

Now, at a glance, the above haiku coupled with the lyric may seem to indicate one of two things. First, it's a complaint that no one showed up to hear my sermon. Second, it's a complaint that people showed up but no one paid attention. It's actually a little more complicated than either of those things, and I don't want to give the impression that I wrote this poem to complain about my church.

When pastors write sermons, they sometimes have specific people in mind when they develop particular points. They may question how something will sound: a reference to death, for instance, to a recent widow. Or they may write particular lines in the hopes that particular people will hear them. This may sound a little passive-aggressive, and it probably is. Nevertheless, it's this later point that I mean.

Take my Pentecost sermon. The original title for it was "'Church is Boring,'" which is what confirmands have indicated to me in word or body language. When Pentecost rolled around this year, a day to celebrate the Spirit's work in the church and in believers, this phrase came back to me up against a story of an experience that had to have been anything but boring for those who were there (suspend your thoughts about factuality for the moment...I'm trying to make a larger point).

Then I began thinking about moments in the church's history that were anything but boring: the Reformation, the Boston Tea Party, the Confessing Church, and so on. These events where people of faith took action that was so much more than viewing the Bible as another textbook or putting up with those slow plodding hymns would indicate that a church where the Spirit is truly moving, felt, or responded to is anything but boring, and I wanted to say something about that in the hopes that people who feel dragged to this boring building every week could hear it and understand that there's more to faith than what you assume, and it can be much more exciting.

Well, most of those people stayed home this Sunday. They didn't hear this message. No one came near. The sermon still worked as a call out of complacency for the rest of us, but when originally conceived it was to throw a bone to the people who don't see the church as a very worthwhile place.

No one came near. Not the people I wanted to really hear it.

Maybe other preachers can relate to this. I don't know. But I wanted to flesh that out, anyway.

P.S. I have one member who was born in England, and for the past two Sundays she has had friends visiting from across the pond. I couldn't help but wonder how they heard my Boston Tea Party comment. But Coffeewife told me not to worry about it. So I haven't.