Oedipus Rex, Little Red Ridding Hood and a smart phone – what do these have in common? All of these were potential introductions for the sermon I preached this Sunday. The first two stories twist at a key point when information known to the reader is revealed to the characters. There is an incredible shift in angle and a complete reorientation of the story. The smart phone belongs here in that when it is turned from vertical to horizontal there is a point at which the screen compensates and flips.
If they equally convey the point, why choose one versus an other? Do I pick the most engaging, the easiest to explain, the shortest or the one most recognized by the audience? All of these are valid criteria and hint at the subtle dynamics of engaging and ultimately selecting an audience.
Engaging is always connected to selecting. For example if I preach for fifty minutes on average there will only be certain types of people who are able to engage with such preaching over the course of time. These people will stick around and invite likeminded friends, while most others will fade out. Similarly, if the majority of my sermon illustrations draw from classical literature or professional sports, I will connect to a particular sort of listener and send subtle clues that this church exists for a certain sort of person. When evaluating the effect of talking about smart phones I was thinking about the people whom I might include and exclude. The technologically savvy, the younger generations, the business person, and those with some disposable income would feel at home. On the other hand, older generations, many of the poor, working class adults, and many immigrants would perceive me, and potentially the church, as cut off from their world. Maybe this is over thinking it, but every time I tell a story or make a passing cultural reference I’m describing a world in which people belong or feel like outsiders. While no church (or sermon) can reach all types of people, I’d rather cast a broader net. I think this reflects biblical norms in that the church is meant to be a mixed community filled with all sorts of people. I think my approach also reflects our desire to serve those that God will bring us. I have an idea of the people to whom God might lead us to serve, but I don’t want to miss leading because my net is too narrow.