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I came across a video of a street preacher plying his trade at a “gay pride” festival. While it was difficult to make out what the preacher was saying and whether he was actually preaching or just yelling responses to his tormentors, the words spewing from the mouths of the hecklers rang loud and clear.

I’m not going to repeat them here.

As I watched (sound turned way down) the relentless onslaught of hate emanating from the crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck the preacher was doing there. The phrase “don’t throw your pearls before swine” sprang to mind. I tried to recall an instance in the gospels where Jesus preached to a crowd of rowdy and possibly drunken and/or stoned sodomites, but I could think of none. The best I could come up with was Lot and the angels admonishing rowdy drunken residents of Sodom the night before God destroyed their city.

But in this example, as in all examples of preaching in the Bible, the Sodomites came willingly to Lot. Certainly, they didn’t come to be preached to, but they did come to him. He didn’t seek them out.

This may seem a minor distinction, but it is actually very important. Jesus roamed the countryside as an itinerant preacher, but he only preached to those who came to him wanting to learn about the kingdom, and only healed those who sought his help. He didn’t impose his preaching or healing on anyone who didn’t want them and he avoided places where he knew he wasn’t welcome. Even God doesn’t impose himself on anyone: He respects our free will and waits for us to give him a clear signal before he rushes in to help.

This approach – waiting for a clear signal – is crucial to successful preaching. Whether done two thousand years ago or today, preaching must be done to those who want to be preached to. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. When Jesus told his followers to go out into the world and preach the Good News, he didn’t mean to stand on street corners and rail at all and sundry. He meant to feed those who were spiritually hungry, wherever you encounter them. People who are hungry for the Word will come to you on their own volition; God will send them. What kind of message can possibly be conveyed when a preacher’s every word is drowned out by a mob shouting expletives and curses? That is not preaching.

The Word is a precious cargo: We carry it with us wherever we go, and our job is to share it with whoever wants some. We let them know it’s available, they come to us of their own free will, and we give it to them freely. The heckled preacher at the “pride” festival would have done better just to leave a few flyers around rather than try to force-feed God to people who clearly had no hunger for him.

As for targeting sodomites, Jesus stated that there are far worse sinners in need of repentance, and that Sodom’s judgment will be far less than that of hypocrites. If it’s sinners that preachers genuinely want to reach, they’d be better off heading to the top floor corner offices of banks or multinational headquarters, or to seats of government, or to the inner reaches of the Vatican or any commercialized church today because THAT’S where the super-mega-sinners park their arses and plot their dark deeds day in and day out. In the grand scheme of things, as Jesus pointed out, the “sin of Sodom” is small peas compared to people who pretend to be something they’re not in order to rip people off.

Bottom line? Just because you think someone needs to hear the Word doesn’t mean that they want to hear it. There are more than enough people who want to hear the Word. Preach to them. In the meantime, pray for those who have shunned God. It may be that they, like me, will one day turn.

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