Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Preaching and teaching the Gospel. . .

We live in an information age.  We are gravely tempted to think of proclaiming the Gospel as instruction, imparting information.  It treats the Gospel as if it were merely information and the preaching task as similar to the myriad of YouTube videos you can find to teach you to. do everything from software fixes on your computer to repairs on your car to what supply side economics are.  The Gospel is in danger of becoming merely instruction in knowledge and not a way of life and a new identity rooted in Christ and His saving work we encounter this through the means of grace.

That is one great danger of much of what we do to bring new people into the Church.  We instruct them.  We impart to them knowledge.  Now I am not at all suggesting we stop teaching but I am saying that instructing with knowledge is not all that there is for us to do.  We are to bring people into the life of the Christian community, the family of God in which the pastor functions as the father.  Is this not what St. Paul does when he describes himself not as lecturer or teacher but as father in the faith?  The role of the father includes instruction but is not simply limited to that.  The father leads by example and so St. Paul can call his people to imitate him as he imitates Christ.  The father lives out the faith within the family and for the benefit of the family.  Every statistic on how children continue in the faith bears this out.  When dad is the faith leader, there in church on Sunday morning, and the anchor of that family's faith, it is more likely than ever that the children will continue in the faith.  It does not at all diminish from the role of mother but highlights the particular gift and grace the father brings to the home and family.  This is what St. Paul is getting to.  Teaching and information are certainly imparted but not alone without the context of the family and the fatherly role as model and mentor who teaches and exemplifies what he teaches.

The Scriptures are very clear that the faith is imparted not by throwing a book at people and telling them to read it for themselves but as imparting the sacred deposit, the living tradition, the way of life that is this Gospel (not merely as the education of the mind but of the heart).  Part of this involves displaying within a life of suffering and pain the endurance of the faith and the joy of the Lord.  It is no secret that when St. Paul talks about imitation suffering is very important to that.  And it is this that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.  Blessed are you WHEN you are persecuted, reviled, lied about, disparaged, rejected, and abused for ME, for MY sake, because you belong to Me.

The term here is relationship.  Pastors live in a special relationship with their people and this is not confined to the classroom but is most profoundly lived out outside that classroom within the domain of life lived out in the world but not of it, amid struggle and suffering, showing forth the hope that is in us, loaning our hope to those whose hope is tested by trial, and proving the constant home and welcome (think Prodigal Son and Waiting Father) that allows the fallen, wanderer, and those caught in error to find a welcome and a home again.  That is why this pastoral relationship is enhanced over time and long pastorates.

Information is part of it, perhaps even the start of it, but not the end of it.  That is what often seems to be lost on a world and a church in which the person is alone before a screen instead of together within the family.  There are a ton of great videos on the internet.  Some of them are better and clearer in their teaching of the faith than most pastors can do on their own in the parish.  Yet it is not enough simply to provide information and turn faith and life in Christ into an informational transaction.  We impart not merely a body of knowledge but the shape of a relationship.  This is the fruit of catechism class in which the pastor not only teaches the faith but models it before those who are preparing to be confirmed in their baptismal life within the congregation. This is why as people we tend to define the church and the faith less by the information we got and more by the shape of our pastor's life and ministry among us?  Is this not what St Paul means when he uses the term imitate to describe this life lived out together?  Is this not what we do as pastors in our congregations?

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