Tuesday, January 2, 2018
The hard job of sermons today. . .
Today the hard job of the sermon is to engage a people who have learned to be passive about nearly everything except how they feel or what they want. Today the hard job of the sermon is to entertain a people who have raised entertainment to the highest value and more important pursuit of modern life. Today the hard job of the sermon is to make new what is old, make relevant what nobody thinks applies any longer, and to inform in a way that confirms what people already knew. No wonder preaching is so disappointing. It has become captive to the faults and foibles of our modern day world and is just another effeminate voice trying to seduce or bald white man flapping his gums because he is in love with himself.
Worship has become about words because too many Christians no longer believe that hidden in humble forms God is present doing what He has promised. Words and too many of them dominate much of what passes for worship. The words are mostly about people -- how they love God and just want to worship Him and just want Him to hear them and give them what they want. The words are captive to the moment and do not connect us with the Church of the past or the future Church (as the words of the creeds and the liturgy and the great hymns of faith do). The words are either slogans or cliches, sort of like the 30 second sound bites that define the world events of the day in our news broadcasts except in this case they reduce God to about as many characters as the old Twitter rules allowed. We know nothing of the great fathers of the Church but because of social media we know everything we thought about, whispered about, and felt about during the whole time we spent at Church.
Those who traditionally did not hold preaching as essential to the Mass, in particular the Roman Catholics, have been seduced by the dark side and follow the example of Protestants who reduce the liturgy to warm up for the pulpit time and who transform the whole act of worship into something for the mind. The old words of fear, wonder, awe, reverence, and humility have been traded in for new words of comfort, convenience, relevance, and rights. We no longer approach God with fear and wonder and certainly not on bended knee. Such is the state of Christianity, at least in America.
The priesthood of all believers has come to mean I don't need anyone to tell me what God says but the primary responsibility of this priesthood in the home, displaying and raising the faith to spouse and children has been largely abdicated. The priesthood of all believers has come to mean I can interpret my Bible as I choose and if it makes sense to me it much be right but the primary responsibility of this priesthood to esteem the Scriptures as the living voice of God and to pray His Word into our hearts and minds has been abandoned. The priesthood of all believers has come to mean I can find my own way to God and I get to say what is meaningful to me but the real responsibility of this priesthood to hear and heed Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life and to listen to Him has been discarded. For the vast majority of people in America, God is unapproachable because He is not where we want Him to be -- not because He has reneged upon His promise placed in the Word preached, the absolution proclaimed, the water poured, and the bread and cup eaten and drunk according to His institution.
Preaching is hard because we have lost confidence in words, we have lost confidence in the Gospel, and we no longer want to approach God in fear and wonder, awe and reverence. However, the miracle is, where preachers refuse the new kind of preaching the world approves, God is still opening stopped ears, still engaging dull minds, and still directing hearts to trust in Him. Preaching is hard and preachers and sermons face many obstacles but the Word of the Lord still endures and still accomplishes its purpose. Do not give in to the world's estimation of what ought to be and do not give in to the doubts about the relevance of that Word. Preach it, in and out of season, faithfully according to God's Word and promise, speaking both Law and Gospel, and God will do all the rest. Once we believe this, the job of the preacher is made so much easier and the job of the hearer is as well.