I sometimes get the comment that listening to my sermons is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. Hmmm. I'm not sure whether that is meant as a compliment or a correction! But it has prompted some reflection. There are two ways of thinking about sermons. One way of thinking is that sermons should be very streamlined in content, conveying only the information that is vital for the hearers to know and apply. The idea is that people only learn on a "need to know" basis, and that extraneous information is actually a hindrance, not a help, to real learning. I think there is some wisdom in this, and I probably need to give more heed to it. And believe me, I really do leave out some things that I would love to say!)
But I would suggest that there is another way of thinking about sermons. Might it not be true that sermons are beneficial not only for what people learn and remember from them, but also for the sanctifying influence that the Word itself has on the listening soul? Water, after all, is useful not only for drinking, but also for bathing. A person who might have difficulty drinking from a fire hydrant, could benefit from the gushing outpour by washing. And don't we all hear the preached Word not only as thirsty people needing to drink, but also as filthy people needing to be cleansed?
Jonathan Edwards seemed to think so. Writing in another context (the Great Awakening), to answer those who objected that a higher of frequency of preaching was not helpful because all of the sermons could not be remembered, he said:
"The frequent preaching that has lately obtained, has in a particular manner been objected against as being unprofitable and prejudicial. It is objected that, when sermons are heard so very often, one sermon tends to thrust out another; so that persons lose the benefit of all. They say, two or three sermons in a week is as much as they can remember and digest. Such objections against frequent preaching, if they be not from an enmity against~-re1igion, are for want of duly considering the way that sermons usually profit an auditory. The main benefit obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind at the time, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered. And though an after-remembrance of what was heard in a sermon is oftentimes very profitable; yet, for the most part, that remembrance is from an impression the words made on the heart at the time; and the memory profits, as it renews and increases that impression." (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. I, 394).
Wise words, from a bygone age, don't you think?
So, next time you hear a sermon that is heavy on content - so heavy, in fact, that there is no way you can take it all in, just submit your soul to the Bible-bath you are receiving. Drink in what you can. But even if you miss a lot of the information and fail to record some of the points, remember that that there is probably no more sanctifying thing you could be doing than sitting under the Word of God. A fire hydrant, after all, may be a welcome sight to someone who is covered in caked mud and would like to get washed off. I, for one, need frequent baths.