Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Jolly old Padre Peters. . .
My growing concern is that there is less and less of the kind of solemnity associated with the House of God and the things of worship than ever before. It is not just that sermons are sometimes a string of stories designed to bring a smile to our lips or laughter to our hearts -- that is bad enough -- but that the liturgy itself is one big happy fest in which God is happy to have us there and we are happy to be there. Note here that I am not at all suggesting that we need to be sad or unduly somber but I do think we need to be serious about the God in whose presence we come and the gifts of God that may be free to us but come at the cost of the greatest sacrifice of all. Reverence is not an enemy to faith but its companion. Awe does not deprive us of God our Father but places His fatherly gift and grace in context that only magnifies what it means to be loved by Him. Worship flows out of this reverence and awe as we acknowledge with grateful hearts what He and he alone has accomplished to make us His own people again.
Every now and then people will smile at something I say in the pulpit but it is not scripted -- not like a monologue written to set people at ease and entertain through humor. Preaching is not the place for me to shine but for the Word to be front and center. The best preaching is that in which the preacher is lost to the hearer and Christ is central. Neither is the sermon a place to treat the subjects of God's Word as something lighthearted and casual. Indeed, the things which are our focus are the most serious of matters. We dare not make light of sin and death nor should we presume to make light of what it cost our Lord to answer our enemies and rescue us from the darkness of sin and the shadow of death. The sermon does best which addresses these serious subjects seriously but no less seriously the remedy God has supplied in His Son, the joy and comfort which this medicine supplies to the sin sick soul dying, and how this new life and hope may be lived out today.
That is part of my concern for stories in sermons. Stories can easily take on a life of their own -- one that detracts from instead of points to the Word. I doubt that there is a preacher who cannot relate an account of a story that cannot become bigger than the sermon and the Word. I know I can. It has made me wary of telling stories. The best illustrations are those that come from Scripture and from the text used for the sermon. But the temptation is great to entertain or to tell stories so that people get it. The only problem is that in getting it they may miss the Gospel entirely.
I have heard complaints from people that sermons are boring but if the preacher is faithfully preaching the Word of God and the people want more, there is something more wrong than the sermon. We have to admit that our itchy ears have made preaching much more difficult. That said, this is not about the blame game but about the preacher focusing upon the Word and the hearer listening for it -- and, I might add, trusting the Spirit to work through this encounter.