For those wondering, in the Catholic Church we call preaching homilies and our Protestant brethren call them sermons. Just to get it out of the way, Protestants, for the most part, are way better preachers than Catholic bishops, priests and deacons. I recently attended the funeral of a cousin’s uncle in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. The young pastor did a great job in UNDER ten minutes; I had never heard a Protestant pastor sermonize in under ten minutes before. I assumed that the call of nature was upon him or his wife had complained about his vociferousness (yes that’s a real word).
Enough of the preliminaries; at times there are so many real life examples to use in your homily that you need to be delicate in choosing a story. It needs to be of a variety that will enhance your preaching from merely good to the halls of legend. How about the guy who has severely burned his face three times this year by lighting a cigarette while using oxygen? People might get the idea that you’re using him as an example of stupidity rather than of a dangerous habit; so that’s a no go. There’s the gentleman lying in the grass spread-eagle and face down at the Cathedral. Also, there happened to be three police officers, weapons pointed at his skull, hovering over him. But what would be the message? Crime doesn’t pay, gun safety or the pleasure of lying in grass on a nice day?
There is the man who walked into the parish office with coveralls that said, “Hall County Jail” on the back. He was wondering if we gave out used clothes. After he left, still clad in prison chic, the authorities were called who responded, “Oh yes, we were looking for him.” What would be the message though? Crime doesn’t pay? We need to open a clothing thrift store? Solid orange makes a manly fashion statement? How about the elderly couple who were shut in and needed Holy Communion brought to them? A common tale but these people were memorable for their living space. When you entered the door they were sitting in matching recliners. Next to the door was their TV set with a VCR on top (For those who don’t know what a VCR is, google “ancient history”). On top of that was a collection of XXX pornographic tapes; you couldn’t miss them. An awkward anecdote for a sermon to be sure, but again, think of the message. Old people are not dead people. It pays to tidy the place up before the priest arrives. Some enjoy such entertainment for the acting. The mental picture of the elderly in compromising positions is a great diet aid.
A recent happening was a lady who called three different times inquiring if the person I was burying that day was her fiancé. She was convinced that since she had not heard from the paramour, he must be dead and I had his funeral. The names did not match up and the bride-to-be still wanted the question of her loved one’s disposition answered. Being a fan of Perry Mason, Matlock and Murder She Wrote the temptation to investigate was exciting. Instead I advised her to contact her local police instead of Catholic Churches.
What ties this all together is people. This is what a pastor is about and what Jesus commands, taking care of people. Meetings, programs, the latest book that will “Make you a thriving parish” don’t cut it. It’s being with your people day after day, sharing with them the joys and sorrows of life and, hopefully, bringing the salvation of Jesus into the mix, the true Shepherd. This is basic, but as pastors we often forget the bottom line and put something other than the Lord above them. If we don’t minister to real people, we will never have these real experiences that God gifts us.
Did I mention that naked guy that walked down the aisle of Cathedral and stood in front of the altar during Mass?