Friday, May 27, 2005

Once Upon a Time…

When I give children’s sermons—or, have “Children’s Moments” as I usually call them—I often explain how I use the words “once upon a time.” I say “Once upon a time means that the story I am telling you may or may not have really happened.” What I mean is that I use those words to introduce a story that may be legend, myth, allegory, parable, fable, or metaphor. The historical authenticity of the story isn’t what is important; the truth that the story evinces is what counts.

That said….

Once upon a time a fundamentalist preacher was screeching a sermon to this congregation on the subject of the Ten Commandments. Now, I don’t know what text of The Decalogue he was using (Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21), and for this story it doesn’t really make any difference.

As the preacher shouted out each of the Commandants, an elderly widow in the congregation would raise her arm and shout back, “Amen!” This went on until the preacher screeched, “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” The woman said nothing. She simply sat quietly in her pew.

Then a woman to the right of her elbowed the silent parishioner in her ribs and asked, “Ain’t you gonna ‘amen’ that one, Sister?”

No!” replied the amening woman. “Now he’s gettin’ down right personal.”

Supposedly in 1857 Charles Spurgeon preached that the purpose of the Good News of the Gospel is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Perhaps that is why it seems that only the afflicted or the comfortable ever get much out of many sermons. And why some folks leave a worship service feeling comforted, while others leave the same service feeling afflicted, and some leave feeling nothing at all.

So, how do you react to that “once upon a time” story above? Comforted? Afflicted? Untouched?


  1. I think, generally, there is always something in a sermon to apply to yourself. It's when you don't find something in the sermon to convict your spirit with that you have a problem. My sister and I are about as opposite as you can get in this aspect. We'll listen to the same sermon and she'll sit and apply it to different people and I apply it to myself. The minister can construct the sermon completely around her life and yet she'll apply it to someone elses. He can constuct it about baboons and I'll find a correlation to my life or something I can learn from.

    I don't know, I just think there is always room for self improvement, life improvement. I go to church to learn, not to point fingers. I think conviciton is a good thing. I understand the point of the story but I think a story where she cried out "Amen" to every commandment would have been just as sad. Where would she have seen conviction in her own life? I don't see why being convicted by a sermon would be a bad thing.

  2. Comforted and sometimes, educated.

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