There was once a good and godly man who became a minister of religion and was installed in a medium-sized church somewhere in the heart of Tyrone.
The committee men who selected him and invited him to fulfil the role of first among equals were impressed by his energetic style of communication, and he did not disappoint.
On the Sabbath morning when he first occupied their pulpit he delivered an impassioned message to his listeners. He challenged them to change their ways, to live a life of love, to be forgiving, kind and merciful, to form a bond of love and reach out to the unchurched.
As they filed out that fateful morn, their faces beamed as they shook his hand and encouraged him by assuring him that he was God’s man in a dark and sinful world; yes, they had made the right choice, this man will build the local church, once again it will be strong, a city set on a hill, a beacon to the lost.
Now, most ministers of the gospel treat Mondays as a day of rest, and rightly so, but in his new charge there was much to do. From early Monday morning until the going down of the sun each day, he committed himself to visit every one of his parishioners and so by the end of his first week he had met with about a third of the membership. When he stood once again in the pulpit, his message was equally impassioned and challenging, but it was the same message; word for word, exactly the same sermon. And so there were a few nervous twitches, but no one said anything.
The next day began as the previous Monday morning and at the end of his second week he had met with another third of the church membership in their homes, in a relaxed environment, and he was good at understanding people, body language and that sort of thing. And the third Sunday he repeated the same sermon all over again, and to cut a long story short he devoted himself to meeting the remaining third of his parishioners, but when he tried to preach the same sermon for the fourth time the exasperated committee chairman stood to his feet and voiced his annoyance.
‘Why do you insult our intelligence? How long do you plan to preach the same sermon? Do you think we are deaf, or stupid?’
And calmly the patient preacher explained himself; ‘On my first Sunday here you all congratulated me for preaching a challenging and inspiring sermon, but as I travelled around the parish it is clear that few if any of you are paying the slightest attention. You refuse to forgive those who have wronged you. Your hearts are hard and unloving. You do not care for each other, there is a competitive spirit among you and no interest in reaching out to those who know nothing of Christ or his teaching. If you want me to preach a different sermon, then you must begin to put this one into practice. Then I’ll move on!’ – and he finished his sermon.
I can’t be sure that this is a true story, but does it not resonate with your and my experience? And it’s nothing new, for it was a concern of the New Testament writer James, for it was he who said, ‘Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.’
Are we fooling ourselves?