Linguist Friend's comment on the sermon got me to thinking about what makes a sermon "user-friendly". And he's right about too many complicated messages making it challenging. He's careful about his language and tosses in some complimentary words to soften the critique, which I appreciate. And it's not a bad review, just a useful thought which he wants to be received in a constructive way. Thanks, LF, I understand what you're saying.
(An aside: I know of friends in seminary who refused to listen to any critique of their Sunday sermons---from spouse or friend or enemy---until at least Tuesday. At least one marriage broke up over this issue when one spouse couldn't keep it to himself.)
What makes a sermon user-friendly? When I'm listening to a sermon, it's important that it touch something personal in me. I need to relate to the topic personally. It's also helpful if the speaker reveals something about him/herself. If I get a chance to participate in some way, I go into the topic more deeply. If I have a chance to laugh or cry, that's good. For me, a sermon is successful if I am emotionally engaged. That isn't true for everyone, I know, and I wish I knew more about what makes a sermon user-friendly to people who are different from me.
Consequently, that's how I write and preach sermons. It's most important to me that my listeners stay awake and engaged, whether I gauge that by the looks on their faces, by their laughter or sighs, by their willingness to speak out if invited to speak spontaneously.
I mentioned last night that I felt deflated at the end of the day. I felt that even though the sermon (complex as it was in message) was a great success by my "engagement" standards. Lots of people wanted to share their "joy in the earth" stories; they bubbled over with sharing, so I know that touched them. I think the deflated feeling was related to missing individuals who, for whatever reason, didn't come to the service.
Parishioners probably don't realize how much the minister misses them when they're not present. In a small congregation, an absence leaves a large hole and it's not always immediately clear why someone is absent.
The minister may interpret the absence in a number of ways. Most often it's an unavoidable absence, but ego also gets in the way and throws out reasons like "something else was more important" or "they didn't like the topic" or "they're not supportive of me". None of these may be accurate, but ego throws them in there anyhow!
I try to resist the ego response. In this community of largely retired folks, many people travel in the winter. A nice day (as it was yesterday) calls people into their gardens and at 4 p.m. they're not ready to clean up and come to church. There are many logical, good reasons why people don't make it to worship on a Sunday.
But oh how I wish people would put their faith community on the top of their Sunday list, attending services even when it's not convenient, even when the topic isn't their thing, even when they're mad at the minister, even when they're tired from traveling.
How satisfying it would be to look out at the gathered community and not wonder where so and so is today, if this one is still gardening, if that one forgot about the usher responsibility, if others are disappointed in the topic or the minister, if the diminished attendance is a bad sign of something.
If you are a member of a faith community, know this: the minister misses you when you are absent. The other members of the community miss you when you are absent. The worship experience is diminished because you are not there to lend your voice, to hand out hymnals, to offer a friendly greeting.
If you are a leader in a faith community, know this: the minister needs you to be there on Sunday to help meet the needs of the congregation. The other leaders need you there to feel the camaraderie of leadership. The members need you there to feel your commitment to the faith community. The worship experience is diminished because you are not there to model how Unitarian Universalists approach worship, think about human living, and take their covenant with the faith community seriously.
Okay, I did it again, turned a reflection on sermons into more of a two or three part message. Sorry, LF, but this is a blog, not a worship service!