The Applause at the End of the Sermon

'APPLAUSE' photo (c) 2009, Princess Theater - license:
(And, before you even think it... no, they were not clapping because they wanted it the sermon to be over.)

As I had posted earlier this week, the sermon on Sunday was relatively dramatic, closing with the smashing of a golden calf (spray painted ceramic cow bank) on the altar.  Earlier in the worship, I had replaced the cross on the altar with that cow.  The point of the sermon was that, after crossing over to the promised land, the Hebrews forgot about the providence of God.  They forgot all that God had done for them.  They forgot to be thankful. And, when they forgot God, they looked for something more tangible, understandable that they could put their faith in.  So they built a statue of gold they could touch, and feel, and see, and put their trust in.  I argued that, if this was possible for the Hebrews, how much more possible is it for us who have far less dramatic and tangible experiences of God.  So, when we offer God our thanks, when we remember his care, for all things in life, we keep the sacred cows from taking he place reserved for God.

At that, I smashed the cow and put the cross back on the altar.  

And there was loud applause from the congregation.

And I wasn't sure what to do.

I was pretty vulnerable during this sermon.  This was a sermon where I truly felt carried along by God.  I was passionate.  I felt inspired.  It was a God-thing.  I know it doesn't happen near as often as I wish it would.  But, as I smashed that small statue, I felt pretty prophetic.  I hope that's not pride that has me writing it down here -- sometimes it can be hard to tell.  But, suffice it to say, I was emotionally spent as I got to the close of the sermon and wielded that hammer.

And, at that time, I truly did not know how to react to the applause.

See, for me, applause usually means that "I" have done a good job.  We applaud after a good performance in a play or a rousing song where we appreciate the singer.  We applaud after the game-winning hit or the great speech.  And, while I know that sometimes people clap after a particularly good music number in worship, I didn't know what to do when people clapped after my sermon.

For a little bit there--hammer in my hand, pieces of cow everywhere, people clapping--I was embarrassed. 

Let me be clear that his was not a standing ovation that went on for a while.   There were no shouts of "Encore!  Encore!"  The congregation did not ask for a curtain call. I went home to the same 6 groupies as I always do.

This was a short burst of hearty applause.  But it was enough to make me feel like the attention was all on ME when it had felt like--and was intended to be--all about God and what God has done for us. 

Over the years I've had many folks tell me that they thought a sermon was particularly good or that it spoke to them or things like that.  But I'd never had folks clap at the close of one.

And I was embarrassed.

Now, fortunately, I have a discipleship group that I'm meeting with for Sunday School.  And, in that safe environment I was able to share my embarrassment.  What those folks told me I probably already knew, but I needed to hear it.  The people in church weren't applauding for me.  They were applauding that God was given back his rightful spot…that the cross was going back on the altar.

It wasn't about me

I'm pretty sure I already knew that.

But I needed to hear it.


  1. Jim, thank you for writing this. I appreciated all that you shared.


  2. It was an awkward moment. But, I have to tell you, those folks will remember the stewardship sermon where the golden calf was crushed.