When I first started preaching, what feels like a long time ago now (well its about a decade, so I guess it is) I used to preach now and then at a small church in Warrington where the Area Superintendent was in membership (see, it was l-o-n-g time ago, who even remembers such a role now?). There was an elderly woman who sat towards the front, right in the centre, right in the eye line of the preacher, and as soon as the sermon began she closed her eyes for a 20 minute nap. It was a known feature of congregational life, almost an in-joke. For the novice preacher it could have been very off-putting but you could guarantee that towards the rear of the church sat the Super, who smiled encouragingly in all the right places, and there would always be someone who said something about about what you'd said. For all its limitations, it was place I enjoyed preaching and I am grateful for the encouragement they gave me as I began the path towards ordained ministry.
Fast forward to 2008, and yesterday's service when I came within an ace of giving up on the sermon! It was a hot afternoon and maybe my kind offer to allow people to remain seated for most of the songs/hymns was mistaken, because they simply set into a soporific blob. Sorry, lovely people, but you did. I have a few sleepers, I know who they are, and usually it doesn't bother me, usually there is some response from someone. Not so yesterday. Jacob's two encounters with God formed the basis for the sermon (afterall having worked with the accounts for other acts of worship I might as well share my thoughts) elicited almost zero response. Twenty years in six pages... zzzz two weddings in a week... zzzz large herds of speckled and spotty goats and sheep.... zzz amazing encounters with God.... zzzz. Perhaps people just connected too much with Jacob sleeping at Bethel and decided that was for them?! All I do know is that I left feeling discouraged, and wondered how many other loyal and hardworking ministers and preachers had the same kind of experience not just now and then but week after week?
Perhaps I am just a very boring preacher, perhaps my congregation need to sleep - but as I start to prepare for next Sunday "come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" I quite sure we will moving around a bit more, if only to keep people awake a bit longer! It is also tempting to preach total heresy (if I can think of any!) just to see if anyone responds!