Good sermons are vivid and sticky. They come alive in the imagination and stick with you long after they have ended. One of the best illustrations of both qualities can be seen in a famous painting by French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (pronounced go-GA), who was born in Paris on this day 164 years ago. His Vision After the Sermon is a painting of Breton peasant women who have just heard a sermon on Jacob wrestling with an angel (Gen. 32:24). The women, some in an attitude of prayer, are grouped in the foreground. On the edge of the painting is a partially obscured man, presumably the minister who has just delivered the sermon. (The focus is on the sermon not the preacher.) The viewer’s eyes are drawn to two human figures, one with wings, who are wrestling in a monochromatic field of red, symbolizing their violent encounter, which is often interpreted as the human struggle with God. At least that’s how Jacob interpreted it. Though not in the painting, Jacob comes away from the encounter with new faith and a limp, saying “I have seen God face to face and my life has been preserved” (32:30).
As I wrestle with the sermon I am preparing for Sunday, I am reminded to make my message vivid and sticky. Thank you, Paul Gauguin, for the reminder. And Happy Birthday!