I have a problem with sermons. They don’t just sit there. They want to ambush me. And as such, they just aren’t safe. They burrow into my heart and mind. And, then the Holy Spirit begins to do unanticipated stuff. In short, sermons get out of control.
Oh, it starts peacefully enough because I’m in control. After all I’m the actor; I’m doing the listening to the sermon which enables me to stop listening whenever I want. And, then the unexpected: The sermon comes to life, takes over, and I become not the actor but the object of another’s action. That “other,” the sermon, begins to make all those noisome changes to me.
Of course it’s not the sermon that changes me. Rather it’s God in the sermon. And I discover again that a sermon is possessed of a Power which is greater than I thought. (That seems to be the definition of sermons: they are a mystery filled with power.)
At least that seems to be what happened to me with respect to Dan’s sermon (the First Sunday of Christmas) and Mike’s (Epiphany). Dan invited the congregation to be intentional, not accidental Christians. Mike, hard on Dan’s heals, invited us to enjoy an extended Christmas in which we undertake or renew a journey of expectation of meeting Christ in a new and renewing way.
It sounded good to me. My spirituality can always use a little bumping up, and it seemed a good thing to do— extend Christmas through an intentional, not an accidental act. “Intentionally extending it by being intentional.” It had a nice Christian ring to it.
But were these Dan’s and Mike’s words? Or, were they God’s invitation issued through Dan and Mike, who as postmen of the Divine, brought me a really first-class letter from God?
I heard it as the former.
So here’s the Holy Spirit kicking me in my slovenly ways towards intentionality. And I, in my spiritual tone-deafness, think it is Mike’s and Dan’s inviting me to take part in some benign bucolic exercise.
So I decided to do it. I began by paying intentional attention to parts of the worship service. I chose the doxology. You know the phrases: “… Praise Him, all creatures here below; praise Him above, ye heavenly host….”
(Bear in mind that at this point I think I’m still the actor. But just around the corner….)
As I mused on the doxology, that’s when God begins to act and when I begin to lose control. God begins to paint this picture: All of creation, both on earth and in heaven, singing God’s praises because they recognize God and the undeserved love that He has for His creation. He, the giver of all good things, gives not some things, but all things.
Then picture this. Imagine we’re seeing all of creation, the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs, the angels, the archangels, the whole communion of saints, those untold countless thousands of the faithful whose names we know not. And they are all gathered round the throne of God, adoring Him, and singing those words which are truer than you and I can know at this point, but which are certainly the truest words ever spoken:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.”
Ambushed again. Thanks be to God.
I wonder what else God has hidden in our worship service.