Motorists passing down the main road may have wondered at the odd sight: a gathering of four or five dozen people of all ages standing in a circle in a field on a grey Sunday evening. Rogation Sunday had taken us out into the fields to ask a blessing upon the crops, to pray for kindly weather and a good harvest.
The preacher best able for such a situation could not attend, a family engagement demanding his presence. Taking the microphone, I attempted to shape thoughts fit for the moment; a farming community that has suffered four seasons of bad weather needed words of encouragement. Whether the words were adequate would be hard to tell, people are always polite.
The best outdoor sermon I ever heard may not have been preached at all, but it was a sermon to which to aspire. The 1980s film Chariots of Fire film revived the story of Eric Liddell, the Christian who would not run on the Lord’s Day and whose faith took him as a missionary to China where he was to die in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.
In a gentle and soft Scottish accent, Liddell in the film delivers a sermon to one group of spectators after a race.
‘You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me.
But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul.
You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last?
You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job.
So who am I to say, ‘Believe, have faith’, in the face of life’s realities?
I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.
Jesus said, ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me’. If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.
A sermon of such power would have have been a memorable moment.