Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Square pegs in round holes. . .
Perhaps the kind of preaching that offends me most is the sermon that answers all the questions with a Bible passage, vignette, or moralism. I confess I grow very tired of those who tear out pages from the Bible and paste them against the questions that inevitably rise from the hearts of the faithful living in a world less than friendly to their faith. It is just as tiring as those who abandon any pretense of the faith or of Scripture and have turned the sermon into a motivational speech designed to help people help themselves.
The answers of the Scriptures do not fit the questions posed by the world (at least apart from the Spirit's work opening the heart to faith and the mind to understand the mercy of God). I am not saying that the Scriptures do not answer the real questions of man's need but that the natural man does not understand his plight nor does he recognize the voice of God in His Word or the answers of that Word. To the world, the Scriptures are square pegs that do not fit in the round holes of the self-described wants and needs of people apart from the prompting of the Spirit.
For all intents and purposes, the internet is a better deity for the natural man than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The internet seems endless and yet easily accessible. It is both expansive and personal (in a manner of speaking). Its answers are entirely relevant and if you dispute them it will offer different answers to suit you. It is the source of a virtual world that competes with the other world around you and becomes your refuge and retreat when you cannot stomach the other reality. The internet preserves us and our images -- thus offering a suitable substitute for eternal life to a people who have made something of a peace with death. It dispenses with the unsavory idea of guilt or shame and allows us to indulge our desires without inhibitions in relative anonymity. It creates a virtual sphere of friends and family that make it easy to live apart from and to dispense with the more messy face to face of real relationships. It is the round peg for our round hole -- the ultimate magnification of self and preference across the face of the universe.
The preaching of the Church does not attempt to shove the square pegs of the Scriptures into the round holes of the world's interests or concerns but proclaims an other worldly kingdom that has dawned here but opens something that is in but not of this world. In the face of this new reality, the old questions are no longer either urgent or relevant and new questions lead us deeper into the mystery of God and His merciful acts. Preaching the Kingdom means preaching the new reality which is defined not simply by what we see with our eyes but what we know by faith. The people in the pews are not kept by inspirational stories designed to help them achieve their own dreams any more than they are kept by pat answers that explain away all that is around them. What keeps them is the transcendent kingdom ushered in by the immanent God who wears our flesh, suffers in our place, dies our death, and rises to give us life brand new.
Because of this the world will always find faithful preaching somewhat irrelevant or irrational. Its questions are round holes while God is speaking in square pegs. Only faith can open the ears to hear and the mind to begin to comprehend the mystery of God and our place in all of this. Preaching confronts us with the new reality born in us by baptism. Preaching does not make sense of the world or answer all its questions but delivers the new reality manifest in Christ Jesus. In the face of this, the old questions will either be rewritten or completely abandoned. This preaching does not make it easier to understand or deal with the world around us but gives us a perspective in which to frame both the joys of this world and its sorrows.
The problem is that too much preaching tries to answer the questions the Scriptures do not answer or reduces the Gospel to mere motivational encouragement that justifies and legitimizes the natural desires of the heart. Either way it is a square peg in a round hole that satisfies no one. Look at the question that come to Jesus and His answers. Should not the preaching of this present day parallel the way Jesus directed the hearer beyond self and the moment into the kingdom born of His own death and resurrection? If you want answers, the internet is your god. Don't squeeze God into openings into which He cannot fit. Preach the kingdom. Preach Christ crucified. The Spirit will awaken faith in the hearer and create the questions that will lead the hearer to the one and only answer -- Jesus Christ.