I suppose the preacher was in his late 70s. He played to the gallery. He had obviously preached the sermon often. He was witty, to the point and entertaining. And yet …
It was a very conventional re-telling of a Christian world-view of the God who let something happen in the Garden of Eden which resulted in a rescue mission. It was a mission that involved a nation, its people, priests and prophets and finally a Saviour whose spirit is still on the move all over the world.
It wasn’t what the preacher said which drew my admiration. It wasn’t even the way he said. It was what emerged between the words. There was a wisdom which was full of pathos and truth. It was a wisdom that seemed to be burdened by its own awareness.
He’d started by reading the Collect for the first Sunday of Lent and then added his own prayer. As he came to its close it was as if he had only just realised what he’d been saying and commented that the prayer which was full of ambitious piety was in fact quite beyond us.
“Lord we’ll never manage any of this; you know that. Amen.”
He came to the close of his sermon in the same way. He reminded us of the words of St Paul: God was in Christ reconciling us to himself and we too have this ministry of reconciliation. And he added in a down-beat ending.
“That’s hard work”.
It was as if he had heard himself say all these things over and over again throughout his ministry and it was catching-up with him. He could no longer endorse the Christian-hype that uses big words like salvation and gospel and reconciliation and rallies troops of believers to go over the top again after each Sunday morning.
Had there been too many wars, too much abuse, too many corruption trials, too many failed ventures and too many bitter church-goers since he had first started preaching?
Maybe. No; certainly. And now all that was left was a story he could not change and a calling he could not neglect.
But what emerged was something that can only come to light when you’ve lived long enough to know that life has many unfinished symphonies, dreams are only fantasies and the Gospel doesn’t win too many votes. It was the wisdom of the scarred and the oft-defeated. It is the wisdom not of the defeatist but the candid.
I’m still listening to that sermon as I write this. Grateful for this morning’s encounter with the wisdom of the honest Elder. He preached with faith not hype.