Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thoughts as I Work on Lenten Preparations

I am midway through the writing of the Lenten sermons for our midweek services.  I am struck by the wonderful character of the Lenten season and its magnetic power to pull us into the way of the cross.  It is such a good idea that if had not been invented so early on in the life of the church, it would have been invented later.  As St. Paul reminds us the foolishness and folly of the cross, this strange wisdom of God, is not some ancillary part of our spiritual lives but the core and center of the Christian kerygma and our individual and communal identity as the people of God.

Much as I delight in the approach of Lent and in the renewal of my own spiritual life as I prepare to lead God's people in this place in that journey to the cross, I am simply in awe of the profoundness of this truth and its tie to us through the sacramental life of the Church.  This is the key and crux of my own personal faith and identity and it is the source and summit of the faith and identity of God's people.  That said, it is increasingly true that the proclamation of the cross is absent from the preaching and teaching of Christian churches and therefore further and further distant from the heart and lives of Christian people.

It is not simply Lent which focuses our hearts and lives upon the cross.  It is our entrance into the Church and our own death and resurrection in baptism.  It is the core and content of the Scriptures (read and proclaimed).  It is the power of the absolution which bears to the individual the cross given for the life of the world.  It is the heart and core of the Eucharistic food and our response of praise and thanksgiving.

Yet, in too many mainline churches, too many non-denominational churches, and even too many liturgical and sacramental churches, the cross is but a footnote in the life and proclamation of the church and a distant and even maudlin word offense to our sensibility and self-esteem.  It is as if we have looked at the wisdom of God hidden in the cross and found it wanting and have willingly surrendered it to the wisdom of the world.  The church has become a self-help center in which the latest in pop psychology has replaced the Word of the Cross and the goal of personal fulfillment has replaced redemption in Christ.  We think that we are doing this in order to pack a people into churches so that we do not end up being lost and forgotten on the roadside of American life, looked at and found wanting by those who love today more than eternity.  In the end we are giving up the very thing that makes us distinctive and exchanging the power of God for the popularity of man.

In one sense it should be Lent all the time -- just as it should be Easter every Sunday.  We can never out grow this transforming and life-changing Word.  It is here that the Church knows who she is and her people know who they are:  we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Some would suggest that this leads to a one sermon message in which only a few phrases are changed.  That is the nature of the preaching task -- to preach this one Word of the Cross in fresh and current ways to every age and generation that rises up as well as to every other age and generation of people already there.  To itching ears wishing to hear something else and to closed ears that refuse to hear, we speak the same Word of the Cross but not the same way.  The cross is not some Lenten message for a season but the Word we preach in season and out.

I had a wise and faithful Pastor once share with me that near the end of his manuscript carried into the pulpit he would draw a cross.  As he got near the end of the sermon, he looked down to see that reminder.  If he had not preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified, no matter how great the sermon, it had failed in its most important task.  In the spirit of this man and his simple cross, I have entered the pulpit to speak to God's people not human wisdom in eloquent words but the Word of the Cross in all its truth, clarity, and faithfulness.


Anonymous said...

I recently moved into a Midwest
metro area of 500,000 people after
my retirement. As a lifelong LCMS
member I have struggled to find a
new church home. Most of the sermons
I hear have no Law or Gospel. In the
LCMS parishes I have visited the
sermon is a "therapeutic pep talk"
and there is no weekly Eucharist.
Sunday Bible Classes are led by laity
with the emphasis on discussion not
Biblical teaching.

For me this is a sad situation.
I appreciated your article today
and hope that pastors would heed
the advice to put the crucified
Christ at the center of preaching.

Paul said...

Verbum crucis Dei virtus = the word of the cross is the power of God. Motto of Bishop Bo Giertz +