The minister sits down with his yellow pad, black and red pens next to the Bible he’s possessed for years and behind him are rows of biblical commentary books carefully shelved in his study on a lonely, dark Thursday night.
“Ah, what is the message this Sunday?” he says to himself. The ease and convenience of being alone when composing thoughts to be proclaimed four days later to a large group.
How much energy is needlessly expended by the minister who rarely asks the simple question, “What do they hear?” The minister is so concerned with scriptural references and that exact quote. “Was it verse 5 or 6, I can’t remember,” says the black and red penned minister.
What do they hear? You know who they are, they are “They.” Those folks sitting quietly in front of him who are living and breathing and assembling in this house of God with as many feelings and experiences as there are occupants during that Sunday morning service. (Cue “Eleanor Rigby.”)
Preachers do not know what parishioners hear because they are hearing and seeing things that cannot be recorded on a yellow pad with two pens. Some preachers don’t care because they believe that this acquiesced congregation needs to hear this. (It’s “for their own good,” he’d muse.) Others preachers may feel relived when the labored sermon is over and take a deep breath and say to themselves, “I’m glad that’s done with,” (along with the congregation’s full agreement.)
It prompts me to think about my own preaching and to ask myself, “What do these people actually hear?” And equally important in this visual age, “What do these people see?” As the means to an end, do I seem as unhappy to be standing in front of them as they are in having to listen to my carefully chosen, but lost worn-out words? “Do I look tired to them?” as though I’ve been working too hard when I haven’t?
A woman stopped me after Mass a while back and said, “I don’t agree with most of what you say but you are so happy.” What did she see? What did she hear? What happened that Sunday when I put down the yellow pad and threw away the two pens?