I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnaturd waht I was rdgnieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Amzanig huh?
I’ve spent a lot of years writing articles and sermons taking great care to say it right, only to find out my readers/listeners could have gotten the point with a bunch of gobbledygook. Truth is, I’ve always felt a call to be a minister, not a preacher of words. What I mean is that I was called to be the pastor at FBC twenty-five years ago, and when I accepted, I came here to be a minister to the people.
As a part of that ministry, the church has expected me to deliver a sermon every Sunday morning. That preaching involves words; sometimes the best ministry doesn’t need words.
Trying to find the right words to say and saying them in the right way is the work of ministers. I know how it feels to stare at a computer on a Saturday night after a rough week knowing that the Sunday morning pulpit awaits. At that moment, where are the words?
Words are really common, especially during a political campaign season, where too much is said without thought. But sitting with a couple who has just lost their four-year-old to cancer, well you can’t find a good word anywhere, for love or money.
And no matter what we say and how careful we say it, someone will always misunderstand or misconstrue our intent. We can say, “What I meant to say was…” but it’s too late. The words are gone; they have been set loose forever. An old preacher was asked what he had learned in his fifty some odd years in the pulpit. He replied: “The possibilities for being misunderstood are infinite.”
In the Life of Brian, the wonderfully irreverent Monty Python creation, Brian is giving a sermon on the mount and says: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
A poor soul hears: “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
“What’s so special about them?” the poor soul asks someone close by.
“I’m sure he meant to include all those who work with milk products,” he reassures the man.
Being in the communication business is tough.
I have always tried to write and preach words that were kind, loving, and thoughtful. I hope you have heard, understood, and received them that way.
Even when we try so hard to get it right, we sometimes misspeak. It’s the preacher’s worst nightmare. What’s that you ask? Getting the names wrong in a wedding or funeral is what wakes us in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.
Or when we are a guest speaker and we ask for feedback. “How’d it go?” we ask the host.
“It went great except Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Matthew was a tax collector, not a Pharisee, and the capital of Iowa is Des Moines, not Cedar Rapids.” Ouch!!
So, we make our best efforts at preaching and writing and hope for the best. We hope for good results, meaning that our words have some lasting effect upon at least one of our listeners.
My wife was a fifth-grade teacher, and a darn good one. She got to see results. Students improved their grades, had better reading skills, etc. I got stopped in the grocery story countless times by parents saying: “Mrs. Davis changed my daughter’s life in many ways.”
We preachers don’t get that kind of feedback. “I enjoyed the sermon,” we hear from everyone as they exit. Surely some of them are lying.
So, wtih taht bieng siad, and tihs bieng my lsat atrclie, tnhaks for rdaenig my sutff and God belss.