I've been working on Sunday's sermon for weeks. It has been going a little slowly up until this morning. I had a story to start with, a reading that was applicable, some good songs, but I hadn't yet found the way to tie it all together. I am usually philosophical about that sort of thing, having learned that sermon elements often come together without my help, that many times what I've written as first draft material suddenly is seen to be connected to another idea successfully, and so the sermon almost writes itself.
I'd thought this week's sermon, "An Attitude of Gratitude", would be easy to pull together. I'd been jotting down thoughts ever since the worship committee had decided to work hard at instituting a culture of appreciation in the congregation, offering thanks more often than critique. Those of you who are active in your own churches know that this can be hard to do, that each member of the group has individual ideas about how things ought to go and that there is often an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with others' efforts.
Scolding is not an effective homiletic technique and is, in fact, an example of just what we are trying to eradicate. I figure that most people know what they've done wrong; they need more often to hear what they've done right. But we forget that, in our communities, and we are quick to criticize and to complain about everything that doesn't meet our high standards. We forget how discouraging criticism is in our own lives. We forget that criticism of us is painful and only causes us to be angry and depressed.
I'm not sure we'll ever get rid of the need for honest critique; just substituting positive feedback is unlikely to fix bad situations. Sometimes the situation demands a tough solution and that includes honest critique. But even honest critique causes pain and may engender resentment and injury to the spirit. It must be done kindly, as well.
It makes sense to double our output of appreciation and gratitude to those around us, to help insulate each other against the inevitable day when critique is necessary. And that's what I hope to say, somehow, in my sermon. I'll let you know how it goes.