Supposedly, when a conquering general returned to Rome and was given a triumph to celebrate his victory, a slave would ride with him in the chariot, holding a wreath above his head but whispering in his ear “Remember you are a mortal.” Sometimes I feel that way after a sermon.
A while ago, I went through a period of several weeks where my sermons just didn’t seem to work well. The idea was fine, but I never felt satisfied with my ability to communicate it. And, judging from the faces looking back at me, I think it rubbed off on the congregation. If I communicated much, it seemed to be my vague dissatisfaction with the sermon.
Eventually, my “bad streak” ended. (I say “bad streak” because of my perception of the sermon and its impact, but of course I have very little insight as to how God may have used my words to speak grace to the assembled faithful.)
Finally, after several weeks, I preached a sermon that I liked. More of the faces out there seemed to be following me. Great day.
It was a great day for about 2 minutes, at least. Then this dear saint came up to me after the service to offer a critique of the sermon. She told me she didn’t appreciate it when I’d said Jesus was talking “crazy talk.”
It’s true; I’d said that. I’d been talking about how the things Jesus said didn’t make any sense according to the world’s standards. And the way I said that was that Jesus said a lot of crazy talk.
And I was right. The woman was clearly wrong about Jesus. People who heard him face to face thought he had a demon. They grumbled about his “hard sayings.” They said his disciples were turning the world upside down. If you think everything Jesus said is self-evident and obvious, you either live in a bubble that keeps you isolated from the world — which I doubt — or — more likely — you have completely missed the point.
But that’s not what bugged me about this woman. My real frustration was that I wanted to enjoy my triumph and this woman was whispering in my ear that I was mortal.