Tuesday, November 10, 2015
They are not listening. . .
The point he was making is that people are not listening and you must do everything in their power to get their attention -- and key to this was speaking the lingo of the people, the current version of the modern dialect, and transcend the barrier that Biblical vocabulary and doctrinal language erects against the hearer. Really? I am not so sure.
The example of Jesus does not necessarily support this thesis. Jesus often preached to people who were not present, leaving His disciples confused about what He said or to whom His words were directed. Even the parables (folk stories to some commentators) required unpacking within the privacy of Jesus alone with His disciples. Often the people found Jesus' words simply too hard to grasp or too difficult to accept and many of them left (prompting the famous question to Peter about whether or not he was going to take a hike as well).
The point is correct that many times when Jesus preached and we preach or witness, the people are not listening. Try the vantage point of the pulpit on Sunday morning and see how attentive the faces of the average pew sitter are. I am no better when I am in the pew. Not listening is not necessarily a choice but often a consequence of sin and its terrible effect upon the heart, mind, and ear. But is it our job to make people listen? Or, is it our job to speak faithfully the Law and the Gospel, the whole counsel of Scripture, careful not to presume our opinions are God's Word but taking pains to make sure that we are speaking Scripturally as well as faithfully the Word of the Lord?
The fact that people are not listening is not hard to attest. But that it is our job to make them listen is hard to prove from Scripture. In fact, I would posit the radical opinion that it is not our concern whether or not people are listening but it is ours alone to preach faithfully and forcefully the Word of the Lord. Period. The Spirit does not work only if people are listening. The Spirit works wherever and whenever we speak faithfully the Word of the Lord. Period. The Spirit works even when it seems that people are not listening. Why else would St. Paul remind us that we do not always (or even often) get to see the results of the Word addressed to those in home, church, or community? We speak and God plants the seed and the Spirit works to bring forth the plant and the fruit.
It seems we spend far too much time trying to get people to listen, often resorting to embarrassing gimmicks -- time we ought to spend more faithfully on the words and works of witness. We need to spend less time on the psychology of the hearer or the dynamic of the preacher and those who sit before him. It is all interesting, to be sure, but it is also distracting. Our sermon introductions are often too long and take too much of the valuable real estate of our people's attention. Our illustrations are often too complex or too peripheral to the text so that our people remember the stories we did or did not tell well but cannot for the life of them remember how they connected to the Word of the Lord. Our drama often masks and makes a masquerade of the Word (as if we were its power and not the Spirit).
People don't listen. So what is new?! Jesus also had that problem. Some fell asleep during the sermon. Nothing unusual here. Some left in boredom, offended, or disappointed. Still happens. What is our focus? The Word of the Lord faithfully and forcefully proclaimed. God will do the rest. No, really. He will. He is faithful. He will do it! Amen.