You might think that when it’s time for the sermon, you have reached the part of the service where you are the most passive – just sit back quietly and take it in.
In The Preaching Life, author and Episcopalian priest Barbara Brown Taylor proposes that we look at both the preacher and the congregation as two acrobats performing a routine in the circus who both step out into the air, trusting everything they have done to prepare for this moment and trusting each other not to let go. The routine will only be a success if both acrobats play their part.
A congregation can make or break a sermon by the quality of their response to it. An inspired sermon can wind up skewered somewhere near the second pew by a congregation of people who sit with their arms crossed and their eyes narrowed, coughing and scuffing their feet as the preacher struggles to be heard. Similarly, a weak sermon can grow strong in the presence of people who attend carefully to it, leaning forward in their pews and opening their faces to a preacher from whom they clearly expect to receive good news. (p. 77)
And that says nothing about how we can actively prepare for and follow up with a sermon. Several ways come to mind:
- praying beforehand for the preacher as s/he speaks and for myself that I may listen well
- familiarizing myself with the day’s text(s) before the service starts
- allowing the prayers and songs after the message to strengthen in my mind the theme and point of the message
- reviewing the text and message with family or friends over lunch following the service
- taking a practical step in living out the implications of the text and message
When both the preacher and the congregation see themselves as two acrobats, two active players in the process of hearing God’s Word, we’ll be blessed with some of the best sermons ever preached.