Leaning is a means of concentrating. The parishoner leans forward in the pew to listen more intently to what the preacher is saying. The preaching leans forward on the pulpit when he is making a particularly crucial point and wants to have the full attention of the congregation. I like to lean on the arm of the pew and incline my ear and heart to the Word. Some of us are more visual learners (especially the computer generation) some are more auditory learners, but whatever it is that you do to ‘focus’ and to ‘hear and heed’ what is being said, we need to do that, for our spiritual life and growth does indeed depend on it. Preaching is a sacrament of the Word, and listening and heeding a means of grace. In this series entitled ‘Leaning into the Sermon’ we are going to reflect on the sermon from various perspectives— that of the listeners and that of the speaker as well. Let’s start with the listeners.
If indeed preaching can be a means of grace for those who are listening then it would serve us well to pay close attention. So let’s talk about preliminary things we need to do in order for that to happen. Firstly, since we are in a worship service we should have already stilled our hearts, and begun to focus on the Lord. We should have quieted all we are in the presence of the Lord. It is not just people present in that sanctuary, it is the Lord, and he has something to say and to do with you as you worship. Preparing yourself to receive the Word involves not just turning off the cellphone, it also involves a deliberate setting aside of all wandering and distracting thoughts and feelings and resolving to concentrate with one’s whole self on the Word. No excuses at this point. Don’t be complaining that the preacher is weak, or his sermon is not perfect. Of course both of those things are true, but God can write straight with a crooked stick. I’ll get to the part about the preacher doing a better job of leaning into his sermon.
Right now I am focusing on the listeners. Unfortunately, our TV addiction has trained us to only concentrate periodically, tuning out commercials. There are usually no commercials in a sermon, or at least there ought not to be. If you find the sermon a bit tough, then gnaw on the bone until you get some meat off of it. My point is it requires a concentrated effort on your part, indeed continual concentration throughout. Don’t expect the pastor to spoon feed you pablum each week. If he does, shame on him (and we will get to that). Expect instead he will tease your mind into active thought. One thing about Jesus’ preaching— he never pandered to the lowest common denominator. He boiled up the people, he did not water down the Gospel.
Now it may well be that the Lord has only one important thing to say to you through a whole sermon, but you will need to be listening intently to hear it throughout. There is a reason Jesus said ‘let those with ears hear…’ There is a difference between listening and hearing, just as there is between hearing and heeding.
Of course sometimes we don’t want to hear. We are afraid we might have to change something or do something if we actually hear and comprehend something. Sure enough, that’s true. On the other hand, the Lord may really have many things to say to you through a sermon. He may be dealing with you in some extensive or profound way, not merely in a casual way. The Spirit will let you know when it’s one of those Sundays. And by golly when that happens, you need to focus like a laser beam on the meat of the Word on that day. The preacher has stopped preaching and started meddling in your life….and it needed to happen.
It may be useful for you to take a few notes on the sermon. It is after all a learning occasion not just a revving up the troops of inspirational occasion. Don’t be ashamed of being a student of the Word even in worship. It shows your maturity, not your bookishness. Remember, sermons are not another form of entertainment, or they shouldn’t be in any case. They are the proclamation of God’s Word. You should not view this as a consumer opportunity. You should see this as an opportunity to grow in Christ and grow closer to God. As 2 Pet. 1.3-4 makes very clear everything necessary for Christian life and godliness comes through the knowledge of God…’ You need to know Him and his will better. Word Up. You need to listen to the preacher.