Monday, January 26, 2015
I did not hear any Gospel. . .
In the same vein, a Lutheran pastor will sometimes be told "I did not hear any Gospel" in that sermon. This is met with an equally urgent case of self-doubt and the same kind of sermon review to see if there is merit to the complaint. There are few things that make a Lutheran pastor feel as sick to his stomach as being told that Gospel was not heard in his sermons or that the Gospel does not predominate in his preaching.
There is another problem, however. That is the problem of identifying what the Gospel is. We have come to define "gospel" in rather generic terms -- anything that makes me feel better. So the gospel is love without strings, tolerance without judgment, forgiveness without repentance, heaven without hell, Easter without Good Friday, and a good man without the Godhead. The trouble is that defining the gospel in this way means that the criteria for hearing gospel in preaching is whether or not I feel better. We all want to feel better and it is tempting to believe that whatever makes us feel better is good.
The truth is that the Gospel (the real one of Christ crucified and the Scriptures which all point to Him) is scandalous to our sinful minds and hearts and offensive to the world apart from the faith. It is not the law only that shocks and offends but the Gospel. It is not logic or reason but the wisdom that comes not from within and the wisdom which must come down from above. The Gospel is sweet but its sweetness has its own bite. I do not mean the same bite as the Law but a far different bite -- the shock of the God who wears a diaper and nurses at the Virgin Mary's breast, who is our Rescuer but who must be rescued from Herod's wrath, who saves us by wearing the dirt of the sins we don't want to admit or allow into the light of day, and who does this by dying the death we deserved.
I am NOT saying the every judgment that the Gospel was not heard is a false one. Preachers are human and need to be held accountable. What I am saying is that the Gospel does not always make us feel good or even feel better. The Gospel is the unsettling Word that man could not invent and God delivers by becoming flesh and blood. The Gospel does not mean God has ditched His standards or now shrugs His shoulders over our sins. The Gospel does not mean anything goes as far as our wants, desires, or behavior. The Gospel does not mean there is a reason for everything that happens to us -- especially the bad ones. The Gospel does not mean that everything works out like we want. The Gospel does not mean that life is one happy thing after another. The Gospel does not mean that we can look forward to a fairy tale happily ever after ending. A good example is the Gospel for Holy Innocents. It is the Gospel even though it is the painful and heart rending story of the Holy Innocents who bore witness to Christ by dying. There is no happy ending here but the profound yet confusing mystery of the God whose ways are not our ways but whose ways redeem us from our sin, from our death, from our despair, and from ourselves.... Thanks be to God!