Jack Riemer, a rabbi, is one of the best clergymen of all religions in delivering sermons. Clergy can learn from his speeches, and congregants can enjoy listening to them or reading what he writes. It is a shame that other clergy lack his skill because sermons can be a great teaching tool. I think that most clergy become so overwhelmed with either trying to impress their congregation with their learning or so overcome by the message they feel their congregants must know, that they pay little attention to how they deliver their message, and their sermons become more powerful, effective, and quick working than Extra Strength Tylenol PM.
Many of the clergy sprinkle their talk with a single irrelevant joke and, lacking knowledge on how to end sermons, go on and on with the words of other writers giving the same message until the sermon sputters to a close. Rabbi Jack Riemer is not like that.
The title to his latest book shows his skill in capturing the attention of his audience, “The day I Met Father Isaac at the Supermarket.” The book contains a collection of his sermons. In the titled sermon, for example, he tells the tale of becoming so tired working on a sermon that when his wife sent him to the supermarket, and he sat in the parking lot, he thought he met the biblical Isaac.
As others do, Father Isaac asked him, “What’s new?” The rabbi thought it would be unwise to tell him about TV, smart phones, airplanes, telephones, and the like. So, he asked him instead for his advice on how to answer a question posed to him by one of his congregants.
A young man came to him and asked if he thought it was a good idea to take his girlfriend with whom he has been living to a seashore resort for a weekend to help him decide whether they click or not. Father Isaac replied, “Would you please tell him in my name that I think HE IS AN IDIOT!” Then he gave the rabbi a very good answer with some references to his own wife Becky. He told the rabbi about the test his father Abraham’s servant put to Becky to discover if she was a suitable wife. It had nothing to do with sex. And Father Isaac told him a story told to him by a Catholic newsman at a bar located halfway between the Jewish and Catholic sections of heaven. The two had met for a drink and were discussing a case just like this one that the reporter heard when he was writing for a newspaper in Chicago.
I cannot imagine any congregant hearing the start of this sermon, which goes on in the same vein, not sitting up and paying attention and learning from Father Isaac’s advice, which is good.