Saturday, March 31, 2012

Who to impress and how?

Every Lutheran preacher finds this a daunting time of year.  Same old message, many new occasional faces, and the desire on both preacher and hearer to be stirred by the message.  Ahhhh, what shall I say?  The stories are not new nor are they particularly unfamiliar.  But that is not why folks are headed to Church Palm Sunday through Easter (especially Easter).  They are there to hear the old story that is so familiar with its redemption and hope in the unlikely place of a cross designed to kill and a grave designed to enshrine death.

The strange thing of it is that the seasonal variations are less about adding new things for the big days than subtracting things for certain days.  All during Lent we have subtracted from the liturgy the alleluias, the Hymn of Praise, and substituted in the place of the grand event, the simple call to repentance. Easter is the usual -- the alleluias, the Hymn of Praise, and the unveiled images of the crucified and risen Lord.

In many respects, the goal is to bring us back to the routine of the Divine Service and this is the preaching task as well.  We are not there to convert the ordinary into something manifestly greater but to restore the manifest greatness of what happens each Sunday and of the Lord who is present there according to His promise, working through the means of grace to do what He has pledged to do.

I have long since given up the hope of a home run on the big occasions of Holy Week and Easter.  Maybe it was too many hits and too many misses.  Maybe it is maturity (better late than never).  Or just maybe it is the wisdom of my fathers in the faith whose sage counsel now seems to be just rite.  I think of Pastor Charles Evanson whose sermons were hardly exciting but whose faithful content drew you up from the abyss of your sin, guilt, and despair into the heights of God;s amazing gift and grace in Christ.  He did not compete with the lessons.  He let the Gospel be center and willingly took up his supporting role to give it voice.

I think of the many faithful, mostly sainted Pastors who counseled me over the years to know the texts as well as you possibly can and then to know the lives of your people as well as you possibly can and you will never lack for what to say or for the hearer who hangs on your every word.  Or the one who said to me, "Preach to pain and you will not lack for hearers."  I have preached to my own pain often enough to find out others were also wounded and sore in need of Christ's healing balm.

Then there is the other odd circumstance.  Every sermon I have thought to be a killer turned out to be rather, well, less than a hit while the ones that I labored upon and left the pulpit lamenting in my mind proved to be the ones people commented upon most.  It is testament to the fact that the Word of God is not tame or docile.  It is wild.  It is not within our control.  All we can do is speak it faithfully -- Law and Gospel.  Over time the Word seems to need less of me and my help and I need more of its guidance and grace.  As a preacher it is a good thing.

The pews will probably be fuller than usual.  There will be people in church multiple times over the space of Palm Sunday to Easter morning.  But it is probably good to remember what another wise Pastor once said.  Norman Nagel was quoted as saying, “God is there every Sunday. You should be worried about disappointing Him and stop trying to impress the people who show up on Easter.”


Jeremy Loesch said...

Very nice and timely. Thank you Pastor Peters. Your second to last paragraph resonated with me very much. I've been in that same situation with the "great" (in my opinion) sermon receiving no comment and the less-than-stellar sermon (again, in my opinion) drawing all sorts of compliments and comments. I no longer wonder why that happens.

Have a happy Holy Week. Really enjoy reading your remarks.


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