I slipped out of the service just before preaching—old guys will understand the need I felt. As I stepped back to the door of the sanctuary to re-enter the service, I could hear the prayer preceding the sermon. Wilma (one of the church’s pastors) was still praying, so all was good. Then I saw a couple who had just come into the open area beside the sanctuary. They were waiting at the bottom of a small flight of stairs and called to me, “May we speak to the pastor?” I might have looked like the pastor, but I was just the guest speaker.
I replied, “She’s just finishing the pastoral prayer, but I’ll speak to her as she comes down from the pulpit”—a nice old-fashioned stage with a big impressive pulpit and choir loft and organ. I asked them to come on up the steps and wait in the narthex, while I called Wilma. Then I went on in and sat down.
“Amen.” Wilma came off the stage and I told her about the couple. She went out to meet them, and I stepped up to the pulpit. As I started talking about John 10, I saw the couple come in and sit down. They were middle-aged, First Nations at a guess. This put me in a quandary. My notes read:
A basic theme throughout this section of John’s gospel is that Jesus is calling the people to follow him, so that they can find God. We can mock them for their failure to recognize God in the person of Jesus, but I have some sympathy for them. Jesus was from Galilee. Sometimes in Canada we tell Newfie jokes. Well, in our terms Jesus was a Newfie—or an Indian from up north. Jesus came from the margins and represented the margins of society. It is not surprising that the people did not recognize God when Jesus spoke. Yet the way to life was found only in hearing Jesus and recognizing his voice as the voice of God.
Well, my native from up north was sitting down to my right about four rows back. I skipped that line and made Jesus a Newfie. If I had been sure that the couple could see my notes, so that they knew I didn’t add the description because they were there, I might have used it. Jesus probably impressed the Pharisees a lot like natives impress many Manitobans, ringing out all our prejudices and skepticism. But to say the words as they sat there; I couldn’t do it.
They left before I spoke about the Dene People and Tadoule Lake. I was a bit sorry. I was using a Canadian experience to understand the distress of 21st Century life. I wish I could have listened to their thoughts. I learned afterwards that the pastor gave them a gift card, and that they chose to spend five or 10 minutes with us before they went on their way.
The interruption had the effect of making my illustration-application either better, or artificial. I don’t know which. I know it made me wonder how I dare to say the things I say when I preach. Sermon interrupted by life.