"We Interrupt This Sermon . . ."
You might recall the lead-in to those annoying interruptions to your television program: "We interrupt this broadcast for an important announcement . . ." Inevitably, interruptions would interpose themselves right in the middle of our favorite programs. Such is life. We face interruptions on a daily basis. They creep into many areas of our lives, appearing without warning and without apology. Such is the life of a preacher.
As I was about to go to the platform and preach this past Sunday morning, the sanctuary darkened as the lights went out. Storms in the area had disrupted the electrical power. Immediately, the emergency lights came on to provide some illumination, but the room was still devoid of any significant light. What should I do? An interruption to the worship service. A glitch in the preaching time. I said, "Well, find the light on your phone and turn to Ephesians 1:15-23. I am going to go preach anyway." Why should a power failure stop the sermon?
Paul's counsel to Timothy comes to mind: "Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season. . ." (2 Timothy 4:2a). You probably already know that the word for "preach" means "to proclaim as a herald." It is a picture of the royal messenger proclaiming the good news of the King in the center of town. The verb "be ready" means "to stay at one's task." It is used in a military sense of the soldier staying at his post. Similarly, as ministers of the Gospel, we proclaim the Good News of the King in strategic moments and places; we stay at our posts preaching the dispatches of our Commander-in-Chief. The Sunday morning worship service should qualify as a strategic opportunity. I viewed it as such. With the benefit of technology, all I had to do was activate the light on my phone and proceed with the sermon.
The apostle uses two adverbs in modifying the command to be ready (to preach the Word), which are typically translated as "in season and out of season." Actually, the Greek text is more compact; it is only two words which could be translated "conveniently, inconveniently." It is worth remembering that Paul wrote this letter from a jail cell; he would never enjoy freedom again. Yet, he did not let this deter him from preaching the Good News of the King to anyone who would listen. I think that chains and a prison cell would qualify as an "inconvenient" circumstance.
What can we do when those problematic interruptions attempt to keep us from our task? Here are some truths to keep in mind in dealing with such moments.
Stay calm and keep to the task at hand
Such action communicates two truths. One, because I acted like it was no big deal, my listeners were encouraged to do the same. A calming presence always helps. Two, I reinforced the conviction that what I am doing right now really matters; a darkened room is not going to stop me. I have to confess that I use sermon notes, so the light on my phone allowed me to refer to the Scripture text and my notes. Perhaps I should learn to preach without notes and memorize my preaching text so such a moment would not even require a flashlight.
Recognize that interruptions are part of life
This should go without saying, but we often need to be reminded of this truth. Interruptions are both regular and rare. By regular, I mean common, ordinary, every Sunday kind of interruptions, such as people moving, babies crying, PowerPoint glitches, etc. The preacher must soldier on through the sermon. I think of an outdoor, itinerant preacher like George Whitefield who persevered in his sermon delivery in spite of hecklers and violent protestors. One time, after a particularly active service marked by much movement in and out of the sanctuary, I heard a deacon comment that he had known of intinerant preachers, but never an itinerant congregation until then. By rare, I mean that sometimes interruptions are serious and very disruptive. More than once though the years there has been a medical emergency during my sermon delivery. A listener collapses, has to be taken out, and rushed to the hospital. At this point, it is utterly futile to keep on preaching. Medical attention has to be given to the patient; listeners are distracted by the noise and movement. No one is paying attention. Why not acknowledge the moment, and pray for the one in need? Once the situation has been resolved and the patient has been helped, reset the moment by calling everyone's attention back to the Scripture and the sermon. Yes, interruptions are problematic; but they're also providential. We must remember that it's only an interruption from our perspective, not heaven's.
Don’t discount the spiritual dimension of interruptions
On more than one occasion Paul acknowledged that the Lord had opened a door of ministry for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). The "door" speaks of opportune moments to preach the Gospel and minister in needy places. Yet, the apostle was aware that the enemy would not be far away. Where God is working, the devil is lurking. Is it possible for the enemy to use interruptions to thwart your sermon effectiveness? It should not be said that every interruption is an attack by the diabolical one. But it must be acknowledged that he can and does use them to distract preachers from their task.
In his classic work on preaching entitled—The Preacher’s Portrait—John R.W. Stott affirmed the significant responsibilities of the preacher as steward and herald: "We are stewards of what God has said, but heralds of what God has done. Our stewardship is of an accomplished revelation; but an accomplished redemption is the good news which we proclaim as heralds."1 We should steward the Word of God well by not allowing interruptions to trump the revealed truth of the sermon; we should herald the Word faithfully by staying at our posts and recognizing that, in His providence, the Lord permitted disruptions as part of the preaching event, if for no other reason, than to prove His faithfulness. To finish my story about last Sunday: when I finished my sermon, the lights came back on. I gave the invitation, and the altar was filled with souls seeking the Lord in prayer. I am grateful that He honored His Word in this instance.
Interruptions will come. They cannot be avoided; they are part of being fallen creatures living in a fallen world. How will you handle them? Will you preach the Word; and be ready in season and out of season?
1John R.W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait: Some New Testament Word Studies (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), 35.