Hear or download this post (mp3 file – 3:35): And Other Funny Stories about Sudden Death
It’s David Powers’ fault.
David is our media minister. He’s the one who produces the television program we broadcast on Channel 8 here in Richmond each Sunday morning at 11:00. David often finds me after the 8:30 service and tells me how things looked from the control room and what might need to change before 11:00, but this Sunday I found him. I wanted to ask him if the shirt I was wearing, the one with the blue and white stripes, had caused any problems for the camera. Sometimes those small patterns do cause a problem. The camera can’t decide which stripe to adjust for, the dark or the light, and you end up with a swirling pattern on the screen that is exactly what it looks like when a camera is trying to make up its mind.
David said the shirt was fine but he wondered if I could stretch the sermon another five minutes or so. Seems the 8:30 service had come in significantly under an hour and even with the baptism at the 11:00 service David wasn’t sure we would have enough “length” for the television broadcast. So, I went back to my study to see if there was anything I could do.
There was one place in the sermon where I was talking about old-fashioned revival-meeting evangelists and thought I could probably add a few light touches. I could describe the evangelist for one thing (slicked-back hair, skinny tie knotted around his neck, sweat beading on his forehead and spit flying from his mouth), and then I could share a few of those stories those evangelists always seem to tell (like the one about the young man who is almost persauded to follow Jesus–almost–but then leaves the church without making a decision and gets hit by a train on the way home).
What I was aiming for was a caricature of the revival-meeting evangelist, someone whose features and manners were so exaggerated that you just had to laugh. But nobody did. They didn’t laugh at the story of the young man who got hit by a train, or the old man who dropped dead of a heart attack, or the young couple who had a head-on collision with a cattle truck (a cattle truck, for cryin’ out loud!). I couldn’t understand it. These were hilarious stories, side-splitting stories about sudden death, and yet everyone sat there in thoughtful silence, contemplating the brevity of life, and how quickly it can all come to an end.
That will teach me, I suppose, that what strikes me as funny in that hectic time between the 8:30 and 11:00 services is not necessarily so. That’s why I try to build into the sermon-writing process ample time for reflection and reconsideration, because what seems perfect in one hour may not seem perfect in the next. On the other hand if I’m too careful about the process I might hamper the work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you have to let go of the reins and enjoy the ride.
Maybe that’s what happened this morning. Maybe the Spirit took over. Because eleven people came forward at the end of the service today, and some of them may have been thinking that they had better not wait until next week. They had listened to the sermon. They had heard the preacher say you need to make up your mind about Jesus and you need to do it soon. Life is short, after all, and uncertain…
You never know when you might get hit by a train.