by Linda Curtis
It was my first day at St. Thomas Church. I was their first lady minister, and it was my first day to deliver a sermon. Ever. I had met many of the congregation earlier in the week at a welcome reception and so I already recognized many of the faces in “my” congregation.
I had decided to give a sermon with warm images, to express the ever-present love of God. In divinity school, we were encouraged to use a prop, as actors do, to help us with a strong beginning. After all, a congregation is an audience, albeit a captive one.
I had been given a small stuffed animal lamb when I purchased my bed and mattress for the rectory earlier in the week. He was cute, cuddly, and surely could help convey the message of love and affection. So I titled my sermon: “The Lamb of God.”
The little lamb was already hidden in my lectern when I approached the pulpit. We sang our first hymn, naturally selected for the lamb and sheep references.
The congregation was as eager to receive the word of the Lord, as I was ready to deliver it. “God cannot love you,” I stated and paused. A hush after sucked in breaths.
“Because God IS love” I continued. “And That Love, that Energy, is always with you. That Love is a constant caring, and you are never separate from it. “
Then I reached under the lectern and slowly brought up a plump toy sheep. I said, “When you see a child or even this cute stuffed animal, you have a feeling of love and affection, but it just an inkling of the energy of love within you.” And that’s when I brought the lamb up and kissed it.
Now, in divinity school, we are taught to read our congregation’s faces, to see if they are getting the message. But something was wrong. The faces that should be radiant and shining with the knowledge of such love were dazed-looking.
And then I saw why.
My little lamb was upside down. I had kissed the wrong end.
My face flushed, I felt the heat. And I couldn’t speak.
And then, in the back left pew, a muffled noise. Faces turned. A man who hadn’t laughed in years was beginning to shake. And then it burst out, Hah, Hah, ha ha haaa. He gasped for breath, and pealed out another roll of laughter.
The family with children next to him started next, with giggles, and hands covering mouths. The father ducked down and pretended to tie his shoe.
And so it went, from pew to pew until the entire congregation was in near hysteria. I stood with sickly smile, stiff as a board, gripping the lectern and watched.
Finally, with handkerchiefs mopping their eyes, the congregation settled down to a few chuckles and looked back to me, awaiting the next revelation.
“Do you see how the energy of love can flow in many ways, including laughter?” I asked my flock. Heads nodded. I continued, “Next week’s sermon will be on the healing power of love and laughter. Let us pray.”
Quite frankly, I can’t remember much of that prayer, except that I fell back on an inspiration that always helps in time of need, especially when we can not see any good: “In all things, be thankful.”
I remember that I thanked them for being a loving congregation, and that we would surely all grow in our understanding when we met again.
We met on the stairs as the congregation folks left the church, and I heard many comments. From, “Well, I never….” To “that’s the most memorable sermon I’ve ever heard (chuckle) or seen.” A good handshake and grin came from almost everyone that day. Amen.
This story earned an Honorable Mention in 2006 from the Crystal River Chapter of the American Women’s Writing Association.
copyright © 2014 Linda Curtis, botanist