Two times in the last three weeks, I have been “interrupted” during my sermon.
For those of you of a different denominational persuasion, this does not happen in Lutheran congregations.
Garrison Keillor refers to Lutherans (as opposed to others) as the frozen chosen. We come to church. We sit — quietly. We sing.
Rarely do we clap — although that phenomenon has made some headway in recent years.
We patiently listen to the pastor preach — even if he or she is boring.
We take our medicine like good little children and wait to make any commentary until later in the parking lot. Of course, we are very nice to our pastors, wishing them a “good day” and “nice sermon, pastor” as we walk out.
We NEVER interrupt them during a sermon.
But, I guess when the Spirit moves someone, old patterns are broken.
Three weeks ago, I delivered a sermon on evangelism. I was midway through the sermon asking what made the church different from any other organization that is tax exempt. A young lady in the congregation raised her hand. Fortunately, my parents helped instill just a little flexibility into my system. I stopped to let her speak.
“Habitat for Humanity works really hard to get the word out about what they are doing. They do a lot of advertising to draw attention to what they do and try to accomplish.”
This being a sermon on evangelism and getting the word out, her comment was right on target, so I promptly replied with a smile, “Now, Jessica, don’t steal my thunder completely.”
The congregation laughed.
I continued on. I worked my way through the rest of the sermon and was building up to the crescendo. I was just about to lay it on the line and call for a renewed effort by my congregation’s members to invite others to church instead of sitting silent when Jessica’s hand popped up again.
I stopped. Deep down, I was a little irritated. I was ready to drop my clenching line, but I should trust the Spirit more.
She began, “When we were looking for a church home, we got invited to a lot of churches. We went to a lot, too. It was neat being invited, but we didn’t always feel welcome. When we got here, we really felt welcome, and we knew we were home.”
Jessica hit the nail on the head. Not only does a congregation need to be focused on invitation, but they also must prepare a welcome.
Many congregations talk about being warm and hospitable, but rarely do they actually act on it. Here was testimony which both encouraged and affirmed my congregation’s attempts at invitation and at welcome.
My closing line was worthless. Jessica had said it all in a way that meant so much more to those gathered in the pews that Sunday morning.
I replied, “So, what you are saying Jessica, is that a congregation needs to be intentional both at inviting someone and in welcoming them?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered.
I said, “I don’t think I need to say anymore than that. Amen.”
The congregation applauded. (To the time of this posting, I am still confused as to whether or not they were clapping for Jessica’s holy interruption or at my comment that I didn’t need to say anymore.)
This past Sunday, I preached on the imminence of the kingdom of God — that God’s kingdom isn’t just a far-off reality which we experience at death, but it makes itself known right here and right now.
I based it on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapter 5. The Beatitudes. Blessed are they … for yours is the kingdom of God.
I spoke of a local woman who had just lost her husband. She now had to deal with her grief at his passing along with recovering from some major health issues.
Being elderly and having over five acres of land, she was going to have to wrestle with some tough questions, and her daughters lived in Nevada and Illinois respectively. She basically would be alone in all of this, and what does one say to this woman?
A member of the congregation raised his hand at that moment.
I acknowledged him.
He said, “Tell her, St. John (Lutheran Church) will help her.”
I should have stopped there, but I was just getting started. He hit the nail on the head. The church is a visible sign of God’s kingdom in the world, and this man helped us see what we should be doing in such situations.
Whether I like it or not, the Spirit is moving in my congregation, and people are feeling it. They are announcing it. It’s a very good thing.
I can’t wait until my next sermon is interrupted.
Originally posted Feb. 3, 2011, at Country Preacher’s Corner. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Kevin Haug’s blog Country Preacher’s Corner at Lutheran Blogs.