These days we are all meant to be recyclers at heart.

However, when preachers start doing it – recycling old sermons or old stories, our listeners get edgy – and rightly so. They have a right to expect that their spiritual food should be served hot and prepared from the freshest of ingredients. If preachers get their recycling right, that is exactly what should happen.

Years ago that spiritual (and physical) giant Terry  Waite  emerged from his captivity in the Lebanon with the same grace and dignity with which he had entered it. His secret? In his own words it was to ‘redeeem suffering’ – in other words to extract from it some spiritual worth of enduring value. His words have been with me ever since.

This year’s Christmas was very different, with a member of the family seriously ill in hospital right up until the last moment and much of the time swallowed up with visits to and from to the hospital. When I eventually stood up to preach at the midnight service on Christmas Eve  I had two options – to act like it never happened, or to ‘redeem’ the experience.  I opted for the latter, and considered Mary’s act of devotion at the manger-side in the light of my recent experiences watching at the bedside. Whether or not it worked is another matter, of course. You would have to ask the congregation.  Furthermore, redeeming our experience should not mean plundering every part of our lives, even those which should remain private, for sermon material.  Perhaps it should mean no more than this – that a preacher is always a preacher, even when off duty, and that we should constantly look to God for strength and grace to redeem those harder experiences through which we pass.

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