Sympathy Preaching

“When people look for sympathy, it feels like a no-win situation. On the one hand they are telling us that they have it worse than anyone and no one can understand, but on the other hand they are looking for our validation” (Brene’ Brown, I Thought it was Just Me (But it isn’t), Page 52).

I listened to a sermon recently. The preacher began with the Crucifixion of Christ. She pointed out how “bloody, grotesque, brutal…beyond our imaginations” that scene was. She wanted us to understand the brutality of Good Friday by telling us there was no way we could ever imagine it. Sympathy…”Your telling us that no one can understand, yet you’re asking us to understand” (page 54).

Preacher…what do you want from us? Do you want us to get it? Or is that day, as you say, beyond our imagination?

For the rest of the sermon, that is where I stayed….

On the outside…

Unable to imagine….

Sympathy.

I define empathy as the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us (page 33).

What if she set the scene at a place we could imagine? The bloody violence we see on the news every night. The fear that haunts us as we drop our kids off at school during those days and weeks after a school shootings… What if she reminded us of the tears that flow and the anger that burns for the nine people gunned down during a church bible study. Brutal. Bloody. Terrifying. A fear, a tragedy, a hopelessness we do understand.

Because we can tap into our experiences and imagine a day like Good Friday. We just need to turn on the T.V., watch the news, look back though our lives at the horror we have experienced…maybe its not exactly the same…but it is closer than “beyond my imagination.”

What if, as preachers, we invite people into empathy in our preaching. Come, see with me. Experience with me. Be uncomfortable with me. Feel fear with me. When we are together, then we can redirect our gaze towards the Love and Grace that God pours into the moment.