Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I’m going to explain the entire Bible…’
The dangers of mistimed sermons
Ah, the mistimed sermon. We’ve all been there. Who hasn’t heard – or possibly even given – one or two of those?
I don’t mean the sermon with inappropriate timing – the wedding sermon citing Proverbs 19:13 (‘a wife’s quarrelling is a continual dripping of rain,’) or the Christmas preach on Jeremiah 10 (‘The customs of the peoples are false: a tree from the forest is cut down … people deck it with silver and gold’).
I mean the sermons that unpack the text but pack in a bit too much. Where a ponderous snail’s pace becomes a race to the finish, thanks to tangents, distractions or good old-fashioned heckling. A Beatitudes preach that spends a full half-hour on how blessed the poor in spirit are, then rattles off the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers like TV end credits.
Pacing can be tricky. Perhaps that’s why PowerPoint presentations are popular, giving the congregation a bullet-point overview of where we’re going, before ticking them off one by one. It’s like the contents page of a book, the ‘Coming up’ intro of The One Show, or a satnav’s overview button: once you know where you’re headed, if you’ve barely left home after 45 minutes, you know you won’t reach your destination by lunchtime. Similar thing at church.
I don’t doubt the content. It’s often brilliant thought-provoking stuff. It’s just so brilliant that you lose track of time; such thought being provoked that people start preparing for the evening service around you.
We all over-reach sometimes. I once heard a Bible reading introduced: ‘Today’s reading is from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.’ The lectern was arguably not the place for a practical joke, but it woke everyone up, not least because they wondered how far he’d get before stopping (it was around Genesis 2.)
Speaking of Genesis, I thought I’d offer a bit of a service to try and help out those who think they’re going to hear a full overview of a passage, or a book of the Bible, or even the whole Bible itself – yet feel hard done by when the talk falls short. I’m going to give over the rest of this article to a complete and full explanation of THE ENTIRE BIBLE.
That’s the plan. (Although I should add, if you’re seeking spiritual counsel from a comedian, that’s probably not recommended – so take the following with a massive pinch of Lot’s wife. Still, I shall try and do a good Job.) So, the Bible. All of it.
Let’s begin at the beginning: Genesis. Well that’s a big book actually, so let’s begin at the beginning of the beginning, with ‘In the beginning.’ The first three words are just one word in Hebrew, sometimes associated with the start of a ruler’s reign. And, at the very start of those three words in English? ‘In’.
Such a curious two-letter combo. Forgive me if I’m going into too much detail here, but let’s dwell on the dictionary definition of the word ‘in’. Apparently, ‘in’ demonstrates inclusion within a place, locating something as surrounded or enclosed by something else. So, in the Bible’s grand opening (and it is grand), the thing that it’s ‘in’ is ‘the beginning’. ‘The beginning’ is the location, the surrounding, the place where it’s happening. But what is the first something, the thing that is ‘in’? Well not something, but someone: it’s God, there in the beginning. With me so far? It’s Theology 101.
I suppose the straw I’m clutching at is that right there in the first word, there’s a summary of God’s relationship to his creation. He’s in on things with us. In from the word go, and staying in. Add a few more letters and you get ‘Immanuel’ – ‘God with us’. Through Christ, God’s in our skin, in our business, in deep in our troubles. ‘In’: the sixth most used word in the King James Bible, and a fine description of where God is. Knock on the door: he’s in. Add a slithery snake, you get sin, but that’s another story.
So that’s the first word of the Bible done. Oh dear – no time for the rest of the Bible.
Although, I once heard it said that the first, middle and last word in the Bible make a handy scriptural summary. The first word? ‘In’. (I think I’ve made that clear.) The middle? Depending on your translation, two words in Psalm 118:9: ‘The Lord’. The last word of Revelation? ‘Amen’. ‘In the Lord, Amen.’ That’s not a bad summing-up – and a lot quicker than the reading introduced by that ambitious lectern user.
Anyway, next time, maybe we’ll do the second word: ‘The’. If we have time.
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster
This article was published in the July/August 2019 edition of Reform