Chalk this one up to experience.
It was going to be great - a multi-faceted illustration, an almost subliminal expression of the point. In the lectionary text today, Jesus asks Simon/Peter three times if Simon loves him, and Simon says he does, and Jesus says "Feed my sheep." Love of Jesus comes with a price: it requires action, specifically missional activity in the world, you have to go to the sheep, find their hunger and feed them. In my sermon, I was planning on asking the congregation at three different strategic times if they loved Jesus, and when they answered yes instead of saying "Feed his sheep," I would casually take off my suit coat first, then next my tie, and third roll up my sleeves, and just go on with my scriptural exegesis.
It was supposed to be a physical embodiment of getting off our high horses and down to the nitty-gritty, getting out of our Sunday best and into our work clothes, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I was hoping to get the text off the page and out of the language, and get it into a gut-level reaction. Well....
The scripture also mentioned the disciples that Jesus called out to in their boat fishing naked. Naked. And I made a couple jokes at the disciples' expense through the course of the sermon and got a few laughs at the wonderment of their fishing trips.
What I didn't realize was how the reference to the disciples' nakedness translated when I started taking off my clothes! Apparently, as I found out after the service, while everyone seemed to enjoy the sermon, there was a virtually unanimous anxiety about my potential acting out of that Galilean fishing trip.
Instead of my sport coat, tie and sleeve routine being a subtle and almost invisible act, it unwittingly became one of the central elements of the performance. Everyone was wondering when I would stop taking my clothes off!
I can't count how many jokes I endured after the service. But... I bet those congregants will remember that sermon for a while. ;-)
And I wonder how many more people we could have turned out if they'd known the pulpit would provide "strip-preaching." (And if I lose a piece of clothing for every major point, I bet people would be looking for more than the traditional three-point sermon! Or, perhaps hoping for just one or two.)
Do I count the sermon as successful if, in addition to hearing the Word of God, my parishoners were seized with anxiety? Perhaps next time I'll leave the references to nudity out of the sermon.