I’ve noted this interesting tidbit before, but according to a recent study by the good people at Microsoft, the smartphone age has brought with it a decline in the average attention span of an adult to less than that of the common goldfish. Since the year 2000, our ability to focus on any single item has dropped from a measly 12 seconds to a minuscule 8 seconds. For those who can’t focus long enough to do the math, that’s a 33% decline in 15 years! The outside world has continuously been adjusting as well as adjusting to this decline. We see it everywhere. Billboards that were once static are now digital and ever changing. Our television screens are full of information crawling across the bottom, cluttering up the corners, and sometimes filling a third of the screen.
This bit of trivia came to mind for me this morning as I re-read the lessons appointed for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany and realized that from beginning to end, the preacher is dealing with one pithy soundbite after another. As I tried to find a chunk of scripture to focus on, I felt my mind jumping back and forth, here and there, up and down. I began to wonder what it will sound like to the average Christian on Sunday morning? Will it just be a series of sound bytes that one can take or leave at one’s pleasure, or is there something of a cohesiveness to all the lessons? More practically, though I am not preaching this week, I’m wondering how one would go about preaching pithiness?
There are probably several ways to deal with this conundrum. Despite my mind’s inability to track with a single passage, there are several sections of these lessons that deserve some deep mining. The section dealing with the harvest and leaving gleanings for the poor would be a fascinating study in 21st century America. The admonition against hate and reproach could be studied under a microscope. Paul’s play on wisdom and foolishness could take 45 minutes to unpack, as would each of the last two of Jesus’ six anti-theses. The other option would be to hopscotch one’s way through the lessons. Perhaps there is a theme – holiness or love – that could serve as a thread that is pulled through a pithy quote or two from each lesson.
No matter which path the preacher chooses, the battle is uphill but not waged alone. As the Psalmist reminds us in yet another series of decent one-liners that is thread together into a prayer, it is ultimately God’s work to teach us the Law of love. As preachers, our task is to do the work of study, to be prepared, and then to get out of the way and let the Spirit to its work through our words in the hearts of the faithful. Best wishes this week, dear friends. I’ll be praying for you eight seconds at a time.