…or something

I wrote yesterday about my encounter with the mind-stretching, imagination-tickling, presupposition-shaking Professor Tom Long. Tom not only challenged sermons and the people who preach them, though. He also raised questions about the people who listen to them. He expressed his belief that many preachers address congregations who are mixed. By this he was not referring to ethnicity but rather to spirituality. He went on to describe a mixed congregation with people at all different phases of Christian belief, from putative enquirer to paid-up member. This in itself is nothing new. The Apostle Paul, surely, was preaching to mixed congregations in the First Century? What really struck me, though, was the thought that in those congregations lurks a form of Christianity which may be less than Christian. It may, in fact, be an adumbration of Christian and post-modern values.

If there is such a religion, I wondered, does it have its own peculiar set of values and propositions? In particular, I began to wonder what the saints of such a religion might look like. Let me introduce you to some of them…

    Saint D

Admired for his sporting dexterity and noted for his physical appearance.

Held up as an example of physical grace and sporting attitude.

Humble origins feature highly in his hagiography

Saint D

Admired for her grace and elegance.

Held up as an example of charity and compassion

Suffering at the hands of those of less gentle spirit features highly in her hagiography

   Saint FF

Admired for his physical strength and courageous endeavour

Held up as an example of true humanity

Uncomplaining bravery in the face of terrorist attack features in his hagiography

Of course you could add to this list many times over, and I hope that many will through the comments. You could add heroic journalists, inspirational musicians, household heroes and many more. In one sense the point is not so much the people themselves as the way in which they are treated. These post-modern saints are seen as somehow transcending our human ordinariness and inspiring us to do better or reach further. They may all be a long way from the pages of scripture, but may also be higher in the minds of the listening congregation than any Biblical hero. Not only that, but their hagiography is constantly being written and updated in popular culture – with which the church cannot and should not compete. Telling people that they should not admire such heroes comes pretty close to a sin in this new religion.

Better, surely, to sense the need and preach accordingly?  If people need heroes – then let us find them, both in the pages of scripture and in the pews of the church. This may be just one example of how we need to adjust our preaching to reach those mixed congregations who sit before us as preachers. What are some others?