…with a word to match

What would you do if you were transported right now to the camp established on the mountain at San Jose copper mine in Chile? The relatives of the the thirty three rescued miners are clearly very religious people.  They have named the camp ‘hope’, have established shrines for each of their thirty three loved ones, and have made no secret of their reliance on faith and prayer to get the miners out. Many preachers reading this are even now trying a sermon or passage on for size. We can maybe envisage an uplifting word on hope or endurance. We are spoilt for choice in the many uplifting passages the Bible presents to us for an occasion such as this.

Take a few steps outside the camp, though, and I suspect it would all feel very different.  A little further up the mountain is the “colomba” (literally ‘dove’) or supply tube which connects the world to the miners over 2000ft below. Within the next few days MP3 players with podcasts and music on them will be lowered to the men below.  How would you react if you were invited to record a sermon to be sent down there?  Now the traditional distance between preacher and people would be magnified several hundredfold. You see the blazing daylight – whilst they dwell in darkness and a few hours of electric light.  You see the sky – they see the rocks above them.  You breathe the air and feel the breeze on your face as you speak – they breathe the hot and foetid air and feel each others’ breath on their necks as you listen. Illustrations drawn from your world may only exaggerate their plight. You would be torn between describing a world they cannot see, and seeing a world you cannot imagine.

In truth this is always the preacher’s dilemma, isn’t it?  We are always called to enter the world of the other, being authentic both to their experience and our role as herald. We take the distance seriously, but we set about crossing it with indefatigable zeal – because the Word must get through.

If you were to find yourself facing the task I described above, I would recommend retracing your steps before you embark upon it.  Go back down the mountain to Camp Hope before you preach and ask the people in there to pray for you – I’m sure they would know what to do.