As a preacher, I must say that I have always loved a good title. In many ways, give me a title, and I am halfway to a sermon. A good title can suggest a whole approach to a message, or that particular “twist” to an interpretation that makes for a compelling presentation.
Back in seminary, one of our homiletics (preaching) professors told us that a good title is one which, if posted on the board outside the church, would be interesting enough that it could get someone to get off a passing bus to come into church to see what the sermon was about. A fellow student readily picked up on the suggestion; the title of his student sermon was, “There’s a Bomb On Your Bus.”
I remember other titles. There was, for instance, “All Stressed Up and No Place to Blow.” Then there was John Galloway, who served in Fox Chapel, Pa., who followed the downfall of Jim and Tammy Bakker with one entitled, “Who Put the Whammy On Old Jim and Tammy?” After it was posted outside the church, he was invited to appear on Pittsburgh radio talk shows.
Perhaps the most thoughtful title I have seen was by Ernest T. Campbell, who served New York’s Riverside Church in the ‘70s. It was a sermon in itself: “The Can’t Do Everything, Won’t Do Anything Syndrome.” The point of the sermon was, of course, our human tendency to become overwhelmed by all the crying needs around us, to the point where we become paralyzed and do nothing at all about them. Although that title is more than 30 years old, it has lost no relevance, for we still find ourselves easily overwhelmed and incapable of a good response.
The question posed by Campbell’s title is, where do you start? Open the morning paper and we are bombarded with more than enough concerns to make us worry all day long: global warming, war, domestic violence, hunger, genocide, crime, homelessness, drug abuse…the list goes on and on. Our natural response is, “I can’t do anything to fix all that,” and so we do – you’ve got it – nothing. Overwhelmed and paralyzed.
I suppose the purpose of a good sermon – and of a good column – is to get us “unstuck,” to move us to some form of action; and one thing that can move us is insight. After all these years, the insight packed in Ernie Campbell’s title still speaks to me. No, I can’t do it all, and neither can you. But we can each do something. And, just maybe, that little insight can change the world.
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