Just as a whole host of people were involved in the process of making your sandwich (growing the wheat, grinding the flour, driving the truck, baking the bread, and on and on), so your enjoyment of a sermon is one step in a huge chain that begins with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, choosing to reveal Himself to you. He works through prophets, teachers, translators, pastors, etc. to get the message to you, and then works in you to cause the message to have its effect.
But all too often, we go to church thinking of ourselves as individuals, rather than as a part of a community. As a result, we treat the worship of the church, and the sermon we hear, as a personal message to help me in my spiritual walk. If I hear something that benefits me, then it was a good message. If the message exhorts the congregation in the use of a spiritual gift that I don’t have, or rebukes a sin that I don’t struggle with, then I can let this message pass by, and wait for one that applies to me. Then, strangely, during the week, I start to feel hungry. String a few of these messages together, and all of a sudden I’m starving, and looking for a new church that is more relevant to me.
The risk here is that we think of that great chain of communication that led to a particular sermon as ending with me as an individual, rather than continuing through me in the life of the worshiping community. But if the Word of God is for the people of God, and to us as individuals insofar as we are members of God’s people, then we should come to realize that the Word of God doesn’t grind to a halt when it enters our ears on a Sunday morning. Actually, the Word is just beginning to impact the Church when the sermon comes to an end.
If the preacher who delivers the message is the last person to do any serious thinking about it, then the Word of God is simply sitting under the warming lamps until it gets thrown away. The Church has a responsibility to digest the Word she’s heard with the help of God the Holy Spirit, so that the revelation of God nourishes the people of God, and that responsibility rests not primarily on you as an individual, but on the whole company of those who hear.
If, as I suggested last time, meditation is a kind of spiritual digestion, then what I’m suggesting today is that the whole body participates in this digestion, and not simply one organ. Most of us think that digestion = stomach, just like we might tend to think that meditation takes place inside one person’s head. But while you can’t digest without a stomach, or meditate without a mind, proper digestion involves the entire body, as the digestive system depends on the muscular system to keep everything moving, the circulatory system to absorb the nutrients that the digestive system is making available, and so on.
And so if we combine Paul’s metaphor of the Church as a body with many members with the idea of “eating” God’s Word, then we should conclude that the right way to eat and digest a sermon is not by yourself as an individual, but together as a body. Just because the most obvious applications from a sermon don’t seem to fit your personal situation doesn’t mean your work is done. Maybe you’ll find in conversation that you’ve simply missed a way to benefit from the message. Maybe the main benefit God has for you is to be encouraged by how others are responding to the message, and to enter into their joy. Even if you are tempted to swallow the sermon whole on Sunday, this holy work of chewing together will keep it from passing through you without benefit. Meditation shouldn’t be limited to your own head; if we really are sharing a sermon meal with others, we should help each other to meditate on the things that we’ve heard.
One practical way to do this is to practice hospitality with your sermon notes. Keep the discussion alive during the week by finding a Christian brother or sister, your husband or wife, or your children, and spending time talking about what you heard. Use the gift of a spiritual family to make the meal a better and more enjoyable experience. Don’t think of yourself as the end of the process that began with the Holy Spirit breathing out the words of life. Share your spiritual food with your spiritual family, and you will find that there will be twelve baskets full of leftovers after everyone has eaten their fill.