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In Theory: Lightening the message

August 25, 2010

A recent op-ed piece published in the New York Times states that American clergy are burning out as they try to meet their congregations' demands for more lighthearted messages. Is it possible for the clergy to tailor their sermons to congregations hungry for a comforting, entertaining message, or is there no room to do so without sacrificing the tenets of their faith? Do you find such challenges as you preach to your flock every Sunday?

 

So far, combining the serious religious stuff with the humorous has not been a problem for me. However, I must admit that when I decided to go into the ministry at age 60, a college friend had a hard time believing I was sincere! He actually thought I chose the pastorate so that I would have a captive audience that would be forced to listen to my jokes.

In all seriousness, I believe with all my heart that life is serious; as someone has remarked, we're not going to get out of it alive! Still, within the seriousness of life there is a lot of room for laughter. And look at the humor in the Scriptures:

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Jonah is swallowed by a large fish because he was running from God.

(Read the book of Jonah sometime; it's only about four chapters. And if you aren't smiling after you read the very last line of that book, there may be something the matter with you! The voice of God is speaking, showing concern for the people of Nineveh … "and also much cattle?"). I believe some of the stories told by Jesus are funny in order to make a point. I mean, how can you not laugh at the idea that you notice that your brother has a speck in his eye while you have a log in yours?! How about when Jesus says it isn't what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of a man that defiles him. I have a hard time believing that those who heard those words originally did not crack a smile!

So, am I about to burn out? I don't think so, because I'm having too good a time. Do I worry that I may be having too much fun? Yes, every day!

The Rev. C. L. "Skip" Lindeman

La Cañada Congregational Church, United Church of Christ

As a rabbi, I certainly believe that it's possible to be true to my faith and deliver a sermon that includes a comforting, even entertaining, message. However, it's far from easy to balance these two concepts without compromising one or the other — or even worse, delivering on neither idea. So one must take care when crafting this kind of sermon.

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