I LAUGHED AT A PREACHER last weekend. Not with.
Note to my pastor: Relax. It wasn’t you. This time.
The preacher was on a DVD, so he couldn’t hear me.
Actually, the guy says he’s not a preacher. But if he’s not a preacher, he’s facing in the wrong direction and he’s talking far too much.
At first, I believed he wasn’t a preacher. I figured he was a talker. A speaker. A teacher of sorts.
I was watching him talk about trees in the stone-desert badlands of the Middle East. He had a little group of followers walking with him. Perhaps a dozen; I didn’t count. Average Joes and Janes, I’d say.
I had to watch it because my Bible study group wanted me to show this video and let the class chat about it.
It was interesting.
First, the speaker preacher guy stood in front of a tree that provided different kinds of resources to herders in the area. Medicine from the sap, food for the animals. Other stuff too, but I forgot it because this was a sermon.
But I didn’t know it was a sermon yet, even after he said we should be like that tree by helping others.
Next, he stood in front of a tree that takes a generation to produce anything helpful. He said we should be like the person who planted that tree; we should leave a contribution to the world that will outlast us.
I knew that would spark some interest with the Bible study person in our class who works with our church foundation, arranging to get money from church members who die. It’s a good, godly, generous way to leave something of yourself after you’re gone.
I plan to leave my son the blue and white polka dot coffee cup I inherited from my dad. If the grandkids don’t break it first. Note to my beloved daughter: I’ll leave you something just as wonderful.
When the “I’m not a preacher” got to the third and last tree, that’s when I started laughing.
I laughed because I finally realized this was just another three-point sermon.
This last tree was supposed to be pretty, but it looked dead to me. He told his little congregation to imagine the tree as it’s supposed to be: beautiful, lots of green stuff, and full of life.
Try selling that to someone you’re dating: “Imagine me handsome, lots of money, and full of fun.”
To which the date would say, “Imagine me still here.”
It didn’t work for the tree, either. It was ugly, brown, and tired, like me in my flannel pajamas.
The tree, when it’s alive, produces fruit that is toxic. So the life application from this third tree was something like: Don’t be pretty and poisonous.
Hum. I think Jesus might have taken that in a different direction.
Maybe something like: You might think you’re pretty and downright delicious now. But wait until gravity bags your skin, pops your gut, and drops your bladder. When you get there, looking as bad as this tree, just remember you’re more than a bag of bones leaking fermented cranberry juice.
So what about three-point sermons?
I don’t like the formula.
Here’s my observation, as a lifelong observer who usually faces in the right direction during a sermon.
If a listener walks out of a sermon with one idea that sticks, that person has walked out of the sermon with one idea more than almost anyone else.
There’s a reason so many parables of Jesus are in the Bible. People remembered them.
The parable is a story. It has one main point, not three. And it’s not a retelling of ancient Bible stories that the listeners had already heard over and over; which means it wasn’t boring.
(By the way, a note to the more scholarly preachers: We’re “listeners.” Please stop calling us “hearers.”)
If I ever have to lead a discussion again on the topic of trees in the badlands, I think I’d like to pick just one tree. For the record, in the session I led last Sunday, I skipped the third tree. So it was a two-part sermon. And I know the group remembered the lesson of the second tree because the “church foundation guy” lit the room up. He really liked that tree. A lot.
So let me wrap this up with a question. What do you think about sermons you’ve heard over the years, for better or worse?