Finding Faith: What if you give a sermon but no one reacts?
Even a pastor needs divine reassurance every once in a while.
Every now and then, you deliver a sermon that when you leave the lectern you haven’t the foggiest idea how those words you just preached landed with those sitting in the pews. It happens to all of us clergy, I imagine. At least I hope!
Preaching to a room full of rural, Upper Midwestern folks of mostly Scandinavian ancestry, there are times when the entire congregation is holding a poker face when you finish your 10 minutes of preaching. And you are left to wonder into the cosmos if everyone’s mind that day was on the upcoming Vikings football game, or if you truly left them befuddled.
I’m thankful that over my five years with my congregation I have learned some of their “tells.” I know whose closed eyes mean they are really concentrating hard on the message. And I know the ones who’ll give affirmative head nods if they are tracking through the sermon; the ones who are willing to make eye contact and those who are not; the ones who pick a focal point to stare at all sermon long; and the ones who’ll spend the service with their nose buried in their bulletin.
After all, after five years, a pastor does get to know his flock, so to speak.
But every once in a while, you finish with a sermon, scan the worshipers for a reaction and receive nothing! Zip. Nada. Not a clue! All of the usual suspects are giving nothing away!
I experienced this phenomena on a recent Sunday for the first time in a while, and I left the lectern wondering if I’d just preached 1,500 words into a cosmic blackhole.
I sat down on the front row pew where I normally join the congregation for the hymn that follows our sermon. I stared blankly at the hymnals pages. And while I could hear the congregation singing behind me, I was too busy running through the mental rewind of my sermon, scouring the parishioners’ faces for clues I may have missed.
And in that specific moment, a bright, morning autumnal sun broke through the clouds in the sky. The sun’s brilliant rays shone through one of our sanctuary’s stained glass windows, which cast a radiant blue hue over the pages of the hymnal I was holding in my hands. Mere words cannot describe such beauty!
I basked in the sun’s heat and delightful light. And I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me: “Preacher, rest easy. We can do more with your words than you ever can!”
I closed my hymnal, sat back in the pew, and listened to my beloved congregation sing out “Shall We Gather at The River,” while I simply basked in the Spirit’s calming presence.
You see, even a pastor needs divine reassurance every once in a while. Amen.