A few weeks ago, I heard a pastor finally confess something I’d been waiting for a pastor to say my entire life. During the middle of his sermon, he declared, “This sermon is going to have four endings.” I was so happy I wanted to give him the world’s most awesome side hug. Finally, a pastor was admitting the difficulty of ending a sermon.
“WHEN THE END IS NEAR”
Seven Signs a Sermon Is (Almost) Over
This blog post is from Jon Acuff and he has heard quite a few sermons in his day. Here’s his handy guide for discerning when the end is near.
Some pastors just preach until the clock runs out and then tie the whole thing off unexpectedly with a prayer. With little or no warning, right after they’ve read a Bible verse, they’ll say, “Dear God, we just thank you for this Sunday.” If you’re in the audience taking notes you don’t even know you’re supposed to have your eyes closed. “Are we in a prayer right now? Was that the end?”
To prevent End of Sermon Whiplash or “ESW,” I’ve collected seven signs that will indicate to you that the ride is about to come to an end. Get your Bibles and your coat. Break yourself, fool, it’s time to go to lunch!
1. “In closing…”
This is an old school sermon ender. When you hear this phrase, you’ve got about seven minutes left.
2. “If I could leave you with one thing today…”
When I hear this, I kick everything else out of my head and laser focus. The “one thing” approach is like a grenade of knowledge that is about to be dropped.
3. “As we’re wrapping up…”
Technically not accurate, since only the pastor should be wrapping up. Hopefully the crowd isn’t zipping up Bibles or gathering stuff while he’s trying to close the sermon. That’s distracting.
4. The band starts to materialize like musical mist.
Wait a second, is that a guitar player slowly creeping onto the stage all quiet like? Did the drummer just rise out of the floor to sit behind his kit?
5. The pastor closes his Bible.
Class is over. We took a good look at the good book and now we’re done.
6. The pastor sneaks a peek at the clock and gets nervous.
I’m not a pastor, but occasionally you’ll see me do this when I’m speaking. A lot of churches have clocks on the back walls indicating how much time you have to speak. And they count backward. When you go over your time they start flashing red. If you ever see a pastor look up, as if to the heavens, and get “insta-sweaty” it’s because he’s way behind.
7. They start talking faster.
I have two talking speeds – fast and wicked fast. If I realize I’m out of time but still have two main points to share, I speed up. Like a ninja. Or a cheetah. Or a ninja cheetah, the fastest of all martial arts jungle cats.
Those are the signs a sermon is about to end. If on the other hand a pastor takes his coat off, removes his watch or says, “Today I want to talk about …” forget it, that sermon is nowhere near over.
Me, personally? I don’t worry about the length of a sermon. I let the Holy Spirit take all the time necessary, but I’m probably holier than you are.
Question: What does your pastor say at the end of sermons? Are there any other signs that a sermon is about to end?
This Saturday, according to one group of Christian fundamentalists, is it. Jesus is coming. Time to close the bank accounts. Clear the calendar. Withdraw from society. Wear a sandwich board that says, “The end is near.” Run around screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
“Christian doomsday prognosticator Harold Camping and his sad motley group of followers say the Rapture will take place May 21. This is the day that true believers will be taken up to heaven, while everybody else — Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and anyone who supports gay marriage or accepts evolution — will be stuck here on Earth for another six months while war and pestilence rains down on us. Then, on Oct. 21, the world will end.
…Camping’s reasons for why he predicts May 21 will be Judgment Day have something to do with the anniversary of Noah’s Ark, the end of Tribulation, which began 23 years ago (Who knew?) and the mathematical formula 5+10+17=Armageddon.
As one of Camping’s followers explained, the Rapture won’t begin until 6 p.m. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Is that in Eastern or Pacific Standard Time?”
Well, because God created time zones — just as he apparently created international borders — the Rapture will begin at 6 p.m. in each time zone. Also, you’ll know when the Rapture will begin because it will be preceded by an earthquake.
…”starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” he says. The true Christian believers — he hopes he’s one of them — will be “raptured”: They’ll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?
“It’s just the horror of horror stories,” he says, “and on top of all that, there’s no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever”.”
Horror of horror stories. Not exactly how I would describe the biblical narrative. Is that the hope we have in God? That he will pour out the horror of horror stories on the majority of the people he created in his image? That this whole creation of his has really just been a testing ground before he nukes it all? That those who didn’t pass the test will first be tortured for six months, then be annihilated in a detonation worse than Hiroshima? I guess that would be quite a horror story.
Many of these well-meaning Christians are trying to follow Jesus. That is where life has its meaning for them (here’s where we agree!). And they would look at others, non-believers for instance, as nihilists. Nihilism, at least of the existential sort, is the idea that life is without objective meaning. There is no outside, definitive, transcendent reality (to which we have access anyway), which we can point to or build a system of meaning upon. Nihilism causes one to create one’s own system of meaning or purpose. So for these enraptured believers, people who don’t believe in God, particularly in their version of God, are simply nihilists with no meaning or purpose in life, and hence not a source of good for the world.
Hold on a second…
Couldn’t we turn it around and see those who put forward that there is no future for this world as the true nihilists?
Couldn’t you say that those who are unwilling to face the problems we face on this planet represent a sort of Christian nihilism?
Couldn’t you say that those who are unwilling to imagine a future in which the human species, regardless of belief systems, will have to learn how to live with each other – that this is a dangerous nihilism which passes itself off as true belief?
It seems to me that a full and meaningful Christian faith is one that embraces the incarnational aspect of Christianity. Eschatology, you could argue, should be about being engaged in the process of becoming, rather than waiting for external and unknown forces to bring about destruction.
Those who are ready to kiss this world goodbye, in my view, are the true nihilists who are abdicating their responsibility as stewards of the creation, as agents of the kingdom. They have buried their talents and are in danger of being the ones who will ask, “When did we see you tired, or hungry, or naked, or thirsty?” I’m pretty sure Jesus told us we’d find him by looking around, not by looking up.
Ironically, it seems that Jesus followers who are ready to take responsibility for their own role in the kingdom would find more in common with the atheists, agnostics and humanists who say, “Hey, this world is where we are now, let’s make it work.”
May we be those who, regardless of our faith differences, seek to heal and redeem the world as Jesus requested we do rather than promote its demise?
This is an edited and shortened post from Bryan Berghoef