Impact

I was chatting with an old Priest recently and he was telling me that he always used to start his sermons with a joke. After many years of doing this he said it began to dawn on him that nobody could remember a single word from any of his sermons - but they always remembered the joke!

Actually, when you think about it, preaching is an unusual mode of communication in this day and age - there arenít many other situations where one person is trying to get across sometimes very difficult points to a gathering of people without the use of visual aids.

Something visual usually has much more of an impact, doesnít it? No professional presentation would be complete these days without the ubiquitous Powerpoint slides or, more recently, something called Prezi (just to prove Iím up to date with technology!). The reason, of course, is because visual images do often convey the message much better than the spoken word alone. 

We even punctuate our service books here with little visuals to help reinforce the words and to give them impact.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw Bishop Alanís DVD about Living Godís Love and there were images from that which struck me and which I remember, like the Madonna holding her baby, for example, or Jesus with his arms outstretched.

In fact we have used visual aids in this church from time to time to help give impact to some of our talks. Iím pretty certain, if I asked, that each one of you would remember something. For example, the Bible which John blew on and showered the choir in dust or the water changing colour into wine. Think too of the visual aids we use on Good Friday to help reinforce the message; the whip, crown of thorns, the nails, the hammer, the dice and so on. 

Do you remember that wonderful one with a lighted candle, where a glass was placed over it and the flame began to go out? Simple message: stifle Godís love and our flame will diminish. Then, if you remember, the glass was taken off and the flame sprang back into life again - let God in and our feeble light can grow strong and steady.

For me, one of the most effective visual aids was when Roger brought in the jar of tadpoles - remember that? He asked us to imagine that if we wanted to tell the tadpoles we love them weíd have to become a tadpole and of course the analogy there was God coming down to earth for mankind in the form of Jesus. 

Iím sure there are many other examples which spring to mind. Simple things visually but able to have a powerful impact.

The other form of communication which can have a powerful impact is the written word and we have a wonderful example when we consider the book of Deuteronomy, part of which we heard read this morning.

Let me take you to the second book of Kings, chapter 22 - back to the time of Josiah, King of Judah, about 622BC. Josiah succeeded to the throne when he was only eight years old and he followed a long line of Kings of Judah who had turned away from God: 

Now, although there were a sprinkling of some good Kings in between, itís quite clear - just hearing that list - that Judah had largely lost the plot when it came to living by Godís laws.

Then along came King Josiah, different from many of those who had gone before him - different because he was seeking the ways of God. He started to introduce reforms and one of things he did was to have the Temple repaired and renovated. It was during these works that a book (or, more accurately, a scroll) was found - a book of the law which was lost, missing; carelessly mislaid, neglected. I suppose it wasnít any surprise that the people were so corrupt, when this book of the law was totally forgotten about.

Whether this was the only copy in existence or not, the things contained in it were new, both to the High Priest and to the King. It had an immediate and dramatic impact on them, so much so that the King ordered it to be read aloud to the crowds in Jerusalem. If we accept the other account in 2 Chronicles, it was this book of the law which played a major part in the shape that Josiahís reforms took.

What was this book they had found? Most scholars believe it was nothing less than the Book of Deuteronomy.

What sort of impact did it have?

Well, immediately following the find, Josiah summons all the people of Judah to a covenant renewal ceremony. He then goes on to encourage the exclusive worship of God and to outlaw all other forms of worship. According to the Biblical account, he destroyed the living quarters for Temple prostitutes and destroyed altars, images and other objects related to the worship of pagan gods, even in cities beyond his Kingdom. Josiah returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple and he reinstituted the Passover celebrations: he held a Passover the like of which - the Bible tells us in 2 Kings 23 - had never been seen before, at least not since the time of the Judges and not during the reigns of any King up to that point.

So, Deuteronomy clearly had a major impact on King Josiah. 

It might be interesting to ask what sort of impact it had on you this morning as you heard those words, perhaps for the very first time or perhaps long forgotten from your memory.

Why, though, "unheard before" or "forgotten"? There they are, in the Bible. Not, like that scroll, hidden away, lost, forgotten, neglected but right there, in the biggest selling book in the world.

Perhaps this year, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, we should do what John did when illustrating his talk so memorably; take down the Bible, blow off the dust, read afresh those words written so long ago in a different age for a different people - but which are still so relevant to us, today.

If we do, we might be surprised at the impact those words have on our lives and we might even remember them.

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire July 2016

This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 13 February, 2011