Preaching Like Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld’s comedic genius revolves around his ability to expose the absurd buried in the familiar.

Here’s are some examples:

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Why do they call it a “building”? It looks like they’re finished. Why isn’t it a “built”?

Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them’s making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?

So Seinfeld gives expression to things that are true yet overlooked. We become so comfortable with what is dysfunctional that we accept it as the status quo. Once Seinfeld makes his observations, we have that “a-ha” moment needed to adjust our behavior and attitudes.

I believe that on a certain level that’s the task of preaching.

Not that preachers share many of Jerry Seinfeld’s core beliefs or moral convictions.

But we have something to learn from his strategy.

Here’s how it actually played out in the opening and closing of a recent Sunday message.  This sermon was part of the MindFull series (“thinking about what you’re thinking about”) and I named it “On Second Thought.”  Here’s how it opened:

I think most of us will agree that FIRST IMPRESSIONS matter.  Both the first impressions you make on others and the ones that others make on you.  It’s why no one shows up to a job interview having not brushed your teeth that day.  It’s why you tend to wash your hair before a blind date.  It’s why you DON’T wear a T-shirt with profanity on it when you’re meeting you’re prospective in-laws or a potential investor.  You just don’t.  It’s really why you don’t always say the first thing on your mind or act too familiar when you meet someone for the very first time.

            I really wish I had learned that better. Years ago – YEARS AGO! – I was in college doing what I did in college, which was playing a competitive tennis match.  And LOSING.  And I noticed that behind the court our coach was talking to a newcomer, someone I’d never met.  They were just chatting away.  Well: do you know what PRIMA DONNAS tennis players are?  We don’t like talking while we’re playing, a fact that gets multiplied by 10 when we’re losing.  So I turned to coach and person I’ve never met and say, “Could you be quiet please! We’re playing a match here!”  Lord, have mercy for my impressive ability to make a first impression.  I suppose our coach said to his chatter companion, “Don’t mind him … he can be a baby when he’s losing.”

The message moved from there through an exploration of Philippians 1:12-18 before landing at this bottom line:  Your second thoughts correct your first impressions.  It contained a number of pleas to slow down our thinking, to refuse to be governed by instincts, to surrender our impulses so we don’t surrender to them.

Here, then, is how the message closed:

I suppose you can tell that I really believe in this second thoughts correcting first impressions stuff.  I’ve benefitted from it.  Yeah, I’ve been on the RECEIVING END of favor that happens when people use their second thoughts to correct their first impressions.  You remember that college tennis match where I was such a prima donna?  Well, I LOST that match for what it’s worth.  And remember our coach was talking to that stranger whose first impression of me was asking for QUIET PLEASE! GENIUS AT WORK!  Well, that stranger ultimately gave me a second thought and, I don’t know, went from “What a baby!” to “Hey baby!” … and Julie and I have now been married for 36 years.  Imagine what can happen as either giver or receiver in your life when you allow your second thoughts to correct your first impressions.

So that’s what it looked like.  A little like Seinfeld in the beginning a lot like Paul in the middle, and a note of empowerment to close.

Because if my preaching can expose people’s default dysfunctions — and do so in a non-threatening way — then life change can begin.