Friday, November 14, 2014

The preaching craft. . .

Sermons do not need to be impressive literary works but they do need to be well crafted and not simply thrown together as well as being thoroughly faithful to the Word and careful to distinguish Law and Gospel.  It surely should not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I do love to read and hear sermons.  While some pastors and preachers may tire of hearing sermons, I surely do not.  If you intend to preach, your preaching must begin with hearing and reading the sermons of others -- good or not so good.

What impresses me about sermons are two things -- on the one hand I look for the way the text is both pulled out of and read back into the rest of Scripture.  On the other hand, I look for the way in which the preacher has used language in presenting both what the Word of the Lord says and applying that Word to the hearer.  I am not impressed with novelty.  I do not expect to hear something new in sermons (when you hear or read many sermons it is hard to find new things).  I do expect to hear the Gospel spoken in fresh ways (do not mistake this, however, for relevance -- relevance is determined by my need and by the gift and blessing of the Word to answer my need of forgiveness, life, and salvation).

I already owned and enjoyed the first volume of Pr. David Peterson's sermons, Thy Kingdom Come, so it was with great joy I received a copy of his newest volume of sermons, this time for the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons.  God With Us is a wonderful volume and it gets the preacher going for these seasons so quickly to be upon us.

Preaching can be both feasting and fasting.  At times the words flow and at other times they do not.  For this reason alone, it is helpful for the preacher to feast upon the rich food of another's well crafted and faithful application of the text.  I heartily encourage the purchase of the newest volume (and the previous volume, if you do not already have it).  Order both here.

Law preaching is some of the most difficult.  We preachers find it hard to speak to people the hard words of the Lord.  If for no other reason than to discover how well the Law can be preached, this volume of sermons is worthy.  We find it too easy to preach to imaginary sins or sins that do not touch close to home.  Pr. Peterson excels in laying bare the soul before the unbending gaze of the Law.  Everyone who sins is a prisoner of his lust. . .  He will not pretend as if everything is okay. . .  And just when he has exposed my captivity to desire and my wish to pretend everything is fine, Pr. Peterson enters into with the sweet balm of the Gospel.  God became man to be your brother.  The Father rejected the Son on the cross in order to adopt you into His household. . . and if that were not enough, He bids you come, bask in His grace, hear His life-giving, life changing words. . . 

If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel.  First comes the rebuke, then comes the calming of the storm.  First comes the cross, then comes the glory. . .  No, Pr. Peterson has it exactly right.  I am my own worst judge of my preaching -- too close to see and hear myself objectively -- but I know a good sermon when I see or hear it.  (And that is the benefit -- some of these sermons are available for you to hear on the Redeemer Lutheran Church website.)  Better preaching begins by reading sermons and hearing them and this is one good place to start.  

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Isn't is sad our sinful selves (mea culpa) love the law - the one we create for ourselves? We love to set the standard so that we pass, but those around us don't. It's the reason we don't mind bad law sermons, but hate good Law sermons. They hurt, but the bad ones just cause us to hurt others.

I love the metaphor C.S. Lewis uses. When Eustace has become a dragon (through his own sin), Aslan comes and 'cleans him up.' Eustace likens the tearing away of the dragon skin (not just a few scales Eustace scratched off himself) to picking a scab. "It hurts like billy-oh," but when it comes away, it is so wonderful.

Good Law preaching hurts like billy-oh, and leaves our flesh raw, pink and tender. But the balm of the Gospel does much good when it hits that tender flesh. It only softens the scab and doesn't change our wound if we apply Gospel on the scabs created by wrong law preaching.