This past Thursday Mother Mabel from St. Anne’s and St. Thomas’ and I went to a day-long conference in Poughkeepsie, sponsored by the State Health Department, for faith-leaders on the Psycho-Social Dynamics of Risk Communication. That’s a mouthful but the purpose was to equip clergy and lay pastoral folks on how to communicate in the case of a major disaster. In this case the topic was part of the nationwide effort to prepare for the pandemic flu.
One of the experts is particularly knowledgeable about preparing leaders to communicate in times of extreme stress. He said that the most powerful style is to get one’s point across in 27 words, 9 seconds, 3 messages.
He went on to say that people will remember the first and last messages but be a bit hazy about the middle one.
The implications are obvious—make sure that the first point in the sermon is the most important, the third only slightly less important and the middle one the least important of the three.
It immediately confirmed my worst fears—that I have been preaching far too long and causing you the other audience of the sermon undue concern trying to keep track of 10-15 minutes of monologue.
So I am going to reform myself and work toward providing 9 second sermons with three important messages with 27 words.
And that got me to thinking, for once—how would I express the Christian faith in 27 words, spoken in 9 seconds. Clearly, an explanation of the Trinity of God is out. But what do we take away from the readings, the hymns we sing, the sermon preached as well as our own experience.
Karl Barth, a very famous Reform systematic theologian, was once asked if he could distill all he had discovered in his extensive writings. He thought for a short time and then said: Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so.
Pretty good but 39 words and more than 9 seconds.
So I wrestled with this for a while—thinking about our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures where Abraham is ordered by God to kill the only son still residing with him.
Could a loving God as portrayed in this story be loving? Well, yes, for God never intended that Abraham should kill the boy but God wanted assurances that Abraham would continue obedient. He was obedient but Isaac had trust issues regarding his father after that.
Not much help from Paul’s convoluted rhetoric from the Letter to the Romans except that we are being sanctified to prepare us for eternal life.
Having worked pastorally with a family dealing with the death of the mother of 3 children, I hope the gist of Paul’s message was a comfort. We all hope to meet up with those we love who have gone before.
Jesus’ continuing charge to his core disciples is to be welcoming to prophets and faithful people.
So what can we say about these things to quote Paul.
It seems the most important message for us is that we are loved by God with all our warts and failings and foibles. It seems that Christianity, our religion is best experienced personally rather than out of a book. Finally it seems God’s welcome to all should be our best welcome as well at each service, each Sunday, each year and all the time between for that matter.
So here goes:
You are welcome here without reservation.
Come and experience God with us.
God loves you and I will too.
19 words, 5 seconds; 3 important messages.
Now go out and live them.