A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…
14 “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15 And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)
To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.
“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry.
The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this.
Being a pastor is an art, not a science.
It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends. It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)
This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity. Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different.
This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page.
That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry. A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.
For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation.
We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon. We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father.
This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives. helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace. That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words. He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.
We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.
This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.
My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is with you!
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
1 When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)
“Homileticians from a wide variety of Christian traditions advocate the preaching of Christ. For example, the Roman Catholic author Domenico Grasso states, “The object and content of preaching is Christ, the Word in which the Father expresses Himself and communicates His will to man.” The Eastern Orthodox Georges Florovsky asserts, “Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference – namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ – and they are committed to this sole and perennial message.” The Lutheran homiletician M. Reu contends, “It is necessary that the sermon be Christocentric, have no one and nothing else for its centre and content than Christ Jesus.” The Reformed homiletician T. Hoekstra maintains, “In expositing Scripture for the congregation, the preacher … must show that there is a way to the center even from the farthest point on the periphery. For a sermon without Christ is no sermon.” And the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “Preach Christ, always and everywhere. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.”5 Authors from a broad spectrum of traditions, therefore, testify to the necessity of preaching Christ.” (1)
Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. (2)
Just shy of 30 years ago, I met a very humble and unique man, my first professor of preaching, Doug Dickey. As I tried to learn to write sermons, Doug instilling in me a mantra, “Dustin, if it’s not about Christ, it’s not a sermon!” I would try to preach about saving the world, about being a better person, about all sort of good things I saw in the text. But Doug kept on coming back to the basic concept – it had to be about Jesus and His work to bring us to the Father. I would love to say I learned quickly from Doug, who also ran the college’s ministry to the huge Cal State across the street, but… well.. I was a typical sophomore… a very wise fool. Two of the passages that convinced me are there above.
Yesterday, in starting my doctoral work, I am well aware of the wise fool in my, and my ability to go off on tangents that are stimulating and enjoyable and lack any mention of God’s desire to save us, or His work in setting us apart for His purposes of fellowship and loving service of those we encounter. It was in my first book to read, that I ran across the quote above, noting that this idea of revealing to people God’s love and His desire for them to share in His glory is not just a Restoration Movement ideal, or that of Luther, but it crosses the lines of the church that divide us. If there is a point where the church can, no must unite, it is here, in Christ to who we are united in both His death and His resurrection. In the end, litle else will matter, and in truth, in this life nothing else matters as much.
We can talk about all the sins of the world (but not our own), we can point to the glorious worship (which ever is our style) we can talk of leadership or marriage, of finding fulfilment, of motivating people to save the world. We can call ourselves missional, or confessional, liberal or conservative, traditional or contemporary. It doesn’t matter.
Unless we reveal the love of God, unless we share His desire to see all brought to repentance/transformation, unless we show how that is what He is doing in us because of the cross….
Our work is in vain…
Thanks Doug – for helping me realize that Jesus Christ is not just the core of our message – He is our message.
(1)Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Kindle Locations 118-126). Kindle Edition.
(2) — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV, Wordsearch Electronic Edition