Discussion Thought of the Day:
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)
I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.
But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.
Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.
All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus? What do they need to know? How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?
Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.
When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching. That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.
So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture. Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.
With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach. They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.
In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected. We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe. And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.
It is all good stuff and beneficial. However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.
It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.
I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth. First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us. He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.” It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God. To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,
This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know. That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.
This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes. With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.
Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it. Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.
We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man. That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.
This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.
Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day
34 Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35 This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 (NLT)
After a brief pause, Jack said, “Explain yourself. I’m willing to hear you out.”
“Okay,” I said, “but to explain myself I have to tell you a story.” I sensed a puzzlement on his part, so I quickly added, “All spiritualities are based on a story. You have to know the story of a particular religion to understand its spirituality.”
This statement aroused the curiosity of everyone. “Tell the story,” said Jack. “Maybe I don’t know the story; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Christianity told as a story.”
“Okay,” I responded, “but I have to tell you I can’t prove the story.”1
“I like that! I don’t like it when religious people try to prove their faith. Just the fact that you say that we shouldn’t try to prove the story with history and science makes me want to listen.”
899 The children of God are present and give witness in the world to draw others, not to be drawn by them. They should spread their own atmosphere, the atmosphere of Christ, not let themselves be won over by a different atmosphere.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in preaching is that it is very different from teaching, very different from teaching, very different from giving a lecture.
The goal isn’t merely to impart knowledge and information, but to draw someone into a relationship, to draw someone into the story, to reveal to them that they have a part, a role, and are wanted. (This is true not only about the sermon but about any time we bear witness to Jesus, that we share His love with others)
This is profoundly different than the way I was taught in the early days, in classes like Expository Preaching and Homiletics. I have written similarly before on apologetics, that the idea is not to win a case, to convince someone to judge Christianity right based on the proof I present.
We simply need to tell the story, to tell it so well the people are drawn into their place in the story,
This is why the post-modern sermon needs to be transparent, that the messenger be willing to tell his portion of the story transparently, the brokenness, the sin and shame (though not in great detail) the hopelessness that exists when we take our eyes off of Jesus, and His continual drawing us back, and the peace that comes when we see Him again. For if they know God can help us, then we are writing on their hearts the word of the story, the “God so loved (me)”, the “body broken/blood shed for (me).
I would assert that teaching the Bible without making the connection to the listener is not preaching, it is not bearing witness to Jesus. It is simply giving people, overloaded with facts, more facts to deal with intellectually. It appeals to their baser instinct, that they are the judge of reality. But they aren’t the judges, they are not just interested observers. So why preach to them if they were. Telling them the story involves them, it helps reveal to them that they aren’t observers and judges, but part of the story.
This takes the objective truth of salvation and helps it become subjective as well. It takes the historical information stored in our minds and makes it meaningful to our heart and soul.
This is the mystery that has been revealed, that which has been hidden from the beginning of the world. The mystery of God and His people, the people He makes His own, the mystery of how you and I, broken by our sin and the sin of the world, are picked up, healed, brought home.
That is preaching, that is bearing witness to God’s love, that is giving people what God wants them to comprehend.
Tell me the story, write on my heart every word, tell me the story of Jesus (and us), greatest that every was heard.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3181-3182). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
For though I am no man’s slave, yet I have made myself everyone’s slave, that I might win more men to Christ. To the Jews I was a Jew that I might win the Jews. To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.
1 Corinthians 9:16 (Phillips NT)
Her (the Church) purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ’s message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people.22 To promote such exchange, especially in our days, the Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage. (1)
Back in the days of my youth, a phrase similar to the title of this blog caused a reaction in me. I was at a seminar on preaching, actually 3 sections on preparation and one final one, on the actual delivery.
It was the third section that bothered me at first, and yet now I wish it was taught to every preacher, every pastor, every priest.
It is not enough to know the word of God, to be able to know the background of the passage, to be able to study all the words in the original languages, to know what scholars from every age thought about it. All these studies are good, all are necessary, along with times of devoted prayer.
But what is also needed is what Paul describes, and what Vatican II’s pastors noted. We have to understand ( to use a pastoral term “exegete”) those who are listening. We have to understand who they are, where their fears and anxieties haunt them, where their guilt and share show that God’s law (whether it be natural law or the covenant) is convicting them, or should be.
Think of it this way, preaching is part of the ministry of the word of God. That word of God is a means of grace – a conduit through which the Holy Spirit pours out grace, the mercy, love and peace that God would desire we all know, that affects every aspect of our lives. Those who preach and teach the word of God are expert at connect the conduit to the source.
But have we figured out how to preach what Luther called “real law” and “real gospel” Have we thought and prayed about making sure the conduit is connect to the other side? Do we bother to think of how our people will hear what we preach? Or do we preach God’s law to convict those not there, and the gospel to people whose sin does not afflict them?
This is what Paul is getting at when he describes becoming like those under the law, or recognize his own weakness, or becoming like those who aren’t bound by the Old Testament. He strives to preach Christ in a way they will hear it, so that they may be saved. This includes all who God would have hear of His love, the believer, and those who as of yet do not believe.
This is what Vatican II was advising in the selection, to understand the world so that the revealed truth of Christ can deeply penetrate those who hear it, and so that He can be understood, and so they can know His love and presence and peace.
May those who preach tomorrow, and those who listen, find this connection made, and people realize the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for them, revealed in Christ Jesus. AMEN
(1) Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
devotional Thought fo the Day:
9 How can the young keep his way without fault? Only by observing your words. 10 With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. 11 In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. 13 With my lips I recite all the judgments you have spoken. 14 I find joy in the way of your testimonies more than in all riches. 15 I will ponder your precepts and consider your paths. 16 In your statutes I take delight; I will never forget your word! Psalm 119:9-16 NAB-RE
The last sentence of his Gospel tells us, for instance, that when the disciples had seen Jesus ascend into heaven, they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52). The Acts of the Apostles repeats the theme: “… they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They went their way after they had seen the Lord ascend into heaven—and their hearts were filled with joy. From a purely human point of view, we would expect their hearts to be “filled with confusion”. But no! One who has seen the Lord not just from the outside; whose heart has been moved by him; who has accepted the Crucified One and, precisely because he has done so, knows the grace of the Resurrection—his heart must be full of joy.
There’s no man living on earth who knows how to distinguish between the law and the gospel. We may think we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it. Only the Holy Spirit knows this. Even the man Christ was so wanting in understanding when he was in the vineyard that an angel had to console him [John 12:27–29]; though he was a doctor from heaven he was strengthened by the angel. Because I’ve been writing so much and so long about it, you’d think I’d know the distinction, but when a crisis comes I recognize very well that I am far, far from understanding. So God alone should and must be our holy master.”
Part of the duty of those who preach is to determine what Lutheran theologians call the “distinction between law and gospel”. This is what others may call the terms of the covenant and the blessings of the covenant. It is that which convicts us, and causes us to turn to Christ for the only relief that is possible, and the very promise, the guarantee of that relief.
As Luther noted, it isn’t that easy, and towards the end of his life and ministry, he became even more aware of the difficulty doing so created, especially in our times of crisis, as we face trauma, like anxiety, and even the fear of death burdens us more.
Part of the challenge is that in the Old Testament scriptures, there are multiple uses of the words for law, the words that describe God speaking, and forming. For in one place the Law is the entire covenant – the parties, terms (law) and promises (Gospel). But the same words and phrases on another describe the law as in the terms – the way God has planned for us to live, as we live as His beloved.
This confusion is often seen in the Psalms, especially in Psalm 119, which lauds and praises God’s law, commands, precepts, judgments, testimonies, and path. Is this the law that convicts, and gives us the choice of confession o living in guilt and shame? Or is this the incredible law and gospel covenant?
The simpleton in me finds that answer in the joy, both anticipated and known, in this section of the Psalm. That would indicate to me that the psalmist knows the entire schematic, that God’s law convicts us, and drives us in despair to cry out “Lord, Have mercy!”, But it also knows the answer. That God desires, wills and has promised to show us that mercy. That is why the praises and blessings ensue, the glorious revelation of the Love of God, the love that we just want to bask in, explore and know, and yet we know we can’t fully.
It is what ungirds our praises; it drives us to celebrate this and to share it with those around us. As Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict noted, it brings a calmness and joy to the place where there should logically be confusion. It is when we know Christ Jesus, and the power of His resurrection and assured of it, and our place sharing in His glory (Col. 1:27ff)
This is why our church services are celebrations of the Eucharist, why the post communion hymn (for us often the nunc dimitis) should be an incredible song of praise! It is why going up to the house of God should become more and more desired, more and more a place of comfort and release of burdens. And if a church leaves without celebrating the magnificent mystery of the love of God, then Law and Gospel were not kept in tension, and the pastor failed. Celebrating it doesn’t mean necessarily dancing in the streets, it can be a jaw dropping sense of awe, or simply unspeakable joy….
But it is there, the knowledge of God’s love, and the peace that passes all understanding, for that how Christ protects our hearts and minds. This is why making sure that we realise that baptism is not just about the forgiveness of sins and repentance, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is why absolution includes a prayer for strength and comfort to walk in our calling, and why the Lord’Supper is the feast celebrating a new covenant, a new life with God. it is the fullness and fulfillment of the Law – that which Christ commanded we teach all people to guard, to keep, to treasure.
This is our feast, this is our joy, this is God and man, together. This is what God established and made to be His complete law… AMEN!
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 153). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(2) Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 54: Table Talk. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 54, p. 127). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
A Devotional Thought of the Day:
5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)
8 No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Micah 6:8 (TEV)
The simple faith of simple souls merits the respect, the reverence of the preacher, who has no right simply to pit his intellectual superiority against a faith which has remained simple and which, by its simple and intuitive comprehension of the Faith as a whole, can, in some cases, understand the essence of that Faith more profoundly than is possible for a reflective faith that is fragmented by division into systems and theories . (1)
Whether I agree with him completely or not, Pope Benedict XVI has to be counted as one of the most brilliant theologian-pastors in the last 100 years. He wrote documents and letters that are stunning in how profound they are, and yet they are intimately pastoral, a look into the life of an introvert who pastored a billion people.
Seeing writings like that in blue above, perhaps it would be better phrased to call him a pastor-theologian, a man who kept his priorities straight, and recognizes it is the faith in Christ, our trust, and dependence on God, that matters more than our meager intellectual pontifications. That is why those of us who would count ourselves as theologians, as professionals in the world of religion, need to respect and honor the simple and deep faith of the simple soul.
It is that Jesus points us to in the Beatitudes, that Micah calls us to, to realize that God’s silliness is far greater than our wisdom, and to live our lives in recollection of this.
For, in the end, it is not the stimulating blogs, our journal articles we write, or the great tomes on doctrine, or our understanding of the great theologians and philosophers in the past that matters.
Rather, as the former pope, who before was responsible for all the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church wrote, the understanding of the essence of our faith.
The joy we take in hearing and responding to phrases like this:
“He is Risen!”
“The Lord is with you!”
and finally, knowing that God will hear and answer our cry,
“Lord have mercy!”
So keep it simple my brothers, reveal to them the height and breadth, the depth and width, of God’s love for them, seen in Christ Jesus! AMEN!
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 94–95). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day?
18 Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people. 19 And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.
Ephesians 6:18-19 (TEV)
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi – As we pray/worship so we believe, so we live.
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.
447 You lack interior life: that is because you do not consider in your prayer other people’s concerns and proselytism; because you do not make an effort to see things clearly, to make definite resolutions and fulfil them; because you do not have a supernatural outlook in your study, in your work, in your conversations, and your dealings with others… Are you living in the presence of God? For that is a consequence and a manifestation of your prayer.
The Church has brought about the emancipation of simple souls and has promised even to them the ability to be philosophers in the true sense of the word, that is, to comprehend what is essential to human nature as well as, or even better than, those who are learned. (a few sentences later) But how can this teaching of the Church be binding if it is not binding on theologians? The essence of the Church’s teaching ministry consists precisely in the fact that the proclamation of the Faith is the valid touchstone for theology as well. This proclamation is the object of the reflection of theology. The faith of simple souls is far from being a kind of watered-down theology for the laity, a so-called “popular Platonism”; the relationship is exactly the opposite: proclamation is the standard for theology, not theology for proclamation
Back in the days of taking algebra and geometry, my instructors would get upset at me because I didn’t include every step as I solved a problem I would get the answer correct, but the missing steps, things I assumed everyone knew, were missing. My attitude was that they didn’t matter. I would eventually find out it they did……
I think the church, especially those who preach, teach and blog are guilty of the same thing. We love to come across as profound in out theology. We love to say why this piece of arcane theology is far more accurate than that, or why this practice will lead to a slippery slope, where those doing or thinking this will become heterodox, then heretical, and then bound for hell. Well, we might leave that last part out.
There is another group that is strongly opposed to theological teaching, whose modern creeds are, “Love your Jesus, hate your religion” or “Relationship not Religious rules”. They are no different that those two hundred years ago cried out “no creed but Christ”.
They are the simply souls who know there is something missing in our theological proofs. Who realize the dissonance, that there is a weak point in our equation. They might not be able to put a finger on it, but they realize what we believe is not impacting how we live.
Think about how many blogs, sermons, Sunday school classes urge us to pray, that teach us how to enter into conversation, either publicly or individually with God? Sure you can find blogs about worship, usually to the extent of “those guys don’t do it right”, but how many help you connect to the awe of realizing you are in the presence of God?
The Lutheran Confessions almost seem snarky when talking about calling prayer a sacrament because then we might take this encounter with God more seriously. St Josemaria talks of living in God’s presence is a consequence and manifestation of our prayer, simply because you have to know He is here to talk to Him. Pope Benedict, then a cardinal, talks of those freed form sin and their simple faith, which is greater than the deepest of theology. (read Augustine’s Confessions and you will eventually find that are the end of his journey)
The missing part of our sermon/blog equation is the starting place. The time spent pouring our heart out to God and letting His comfort and presence bring us hope. It is what will form the basis of our theology, of our teaching, of that which we write and blog. And that is what makes our life, this realization that we dwell in the very presence of God, in His holiness, in His glory. That we can give Him every burden, every anxiety, as He draws us to Himself, as He cleanses, heals, and makes of our lives, our souls, something incredible.
Prayer and worship cannot exist without faith, not just the faith described in theological tomes and creeds, but the dependence, the trust in God to give us what He promises.
To understand that God is here, for you, drawing you into His love. Theology might teach about it, prayer, worship, the sacraments are all experiencing it. Theology tells us what is happening to us, if it is based in prayer. Otherwise, you never get past it to living out that life in Christ.
Spend time in prayer, spend time listening and pouring out your hearts and souls to God, who loves you enough to give you His name to call upon. Who wants to walk with us, live with us, rejoice and cry with us.
Don’t skip by prayer to get to your theology, it is not just a requirement, it is what the theology needs to discuss! For it is life.
Lord have mercy on us!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1981-1985). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 40). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 This is a sure thing: If we die with him, we’ll live with him; 12 If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13 If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 14 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. 15 Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. 16 Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, 2 Timothy 2:11-16 (MSG)
242 Sometimes they didn’t want to understand: it is as if they were blind… But sometimes it has been you who did not manage to make yourself understood properly. You must change that!
I will be honest; it is a challenge for me. It always has been, and as long as I preach, I think it will be.
To explain the glorious, majestic, beyond belief work of God in a simple way, that people will listen too. Yes, I know the Holy Spirit does the work of imprinting that which God has called into existence on their hearts, but that doesn’t mean we can be lax, or, on the other extreme, so eloquent that even a seminary professor would be in awe of our wisdom and message.
Every time we sit at a keyboard, or for some, take a pen in hand, we risk our words becoming talk that is only… talk. We may be proclaiming wonderful ideas, incredible theology, mind-blowing insights into theological truths, but if they don’t get the relationship, if we don’t bring people to realize their hope is not in knowledge, but in the intimate relationship with Jesus that Paul describes. It bears repeating
2 If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13 If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 1
There is the truth that makes a difference. There is the truth that opens eyes, causes ears to hear, brings healing and expectant hope to those damaged and broken by sin.
Yes, there will be people who always seem blind and deaf spiritually. But Paul is equally insistent to Timothy to preach clearly, having studied well. That is the good stewardship of that which is entrusted to us in our ordination, or delegated to those co-misisoned to bear witness to Jesus.
Preaching with simplicity is a craft. It still may be profound, for the simple truth usually is more profound that the most complex of theories.
God loves you… he proved this as…
God came…for you
God died … for you.
God rose again – for you.
Oh yeah – He’s coming back for us.
That’s pretty profound, yet very simple.
May people hear us tomorrow as we point to Jesus. May we rejoice as they see the light that shatters their darkness. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1203-1204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. Colossians 1:27-29 (NLT)
“The key is not to offer commentary but to help the people in the pews understand what is happening in the text so that they can understand what is happening now and respond in faith,” (1)
Just as steel must be warmed before it can be molded or bent, the human heart must be warmed by the love of God in order to overcome fear and be molded by the truth of Gospel, the archbishop said. Without encountering the love of Christ, “the faith simply looks like rules and regulations.” Ultimately, priests and deacons foster an encounter with God when they preach Christ crucified, he said. (2)
When I was a Bible College Student, the method of preaching that everyone was being trained in was called expository or exegetical preaching. You went through a book of the scriptures, chapter by chapter, sometimes verse by verse, explaining the background, the language, the details so that people would have a deep knowledge of the passage. This was the method of greatly admired preachers like Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Haddon Robinson, and within my brother at the time, pastors like Ben Merold and Max Lucado. Denominations like Calvary Chapel still make the claim that this is the only way to preach.
It was such a popular method that 3 of my four undergraduate courses in preaching were based in it, as were most of the 40 units I had in Bible. I have a good friend who has his MDiv and another graduate degree in it. I was trained in that way, and I still teach some Bible studies that way.
But I don’t preach that way anymore. Haven’t in a while.
And as I am teaching a course in preaching (called Homiletics) at the present moment, I’ve been thinking about it. How do you describe the style of preaching? I was reading the article the blue quotes come from, and I realized the word I was looking for to describe the style of preaching.
Now, before you get the idea that I am talking about end times scary stuff, that is not what apocalyptic means, nor for that matter what the apocalypse is about.
Apocalyptic preaching is revelatory! It reveals! It is about teaching what was hidden, what was concealed. Apocalyptic preaching is about that which was hidden behind the curtain (not the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, but the one in the Tabernacle/Temple.) It is what Paul is talking about to the church in Colossae – our hope is found in the secret being revealed. The secret of Christ being in us, being united to us, and us to His cross and resurrection. That united to Him, we will share in His glory, we will live eternally in the presence and love of God the Father.
Revealing that secret to people who are broken by this world, by its sin, just as the people ere in the days of Jesus, and all the days since Adam and Eve were broken. That God desires to bring healing to them, not just understanding. That God wants to reconcile them, not just demand from them. The sermon is to reveal Him to them, the relationship He desires to have with them, it should strengthen that relationship, help they trust Him, depend on them.
That isn’t always done if you are worried about defining the minutiae. What needs to be done, – show them their need for God, and show them, God, not just wanting to meet that need, but desiring to, no matter what it costs. Or what it costed. This is what gets us through the tough days, this is what gives us hope as we try to cope without our brokenness and the worlds. It is what gives us hope, even as we deal with death.
One last quote from the article.
“Sobering recent statistics reveal many Catholics (I would say Christians of many stripes) don’t even think it’s possible to have a friendship with God, so they certainly don’t know, with every fiber of their being, that they are loved, infinitely and passionately, by the One who has made it all,” he said (3)
Helping then know that, this is the nature of apocalyptic preaching. It is giving them the reason we have hope. To know that are cry, “Lord have mercy” is heard.
May everyone who preaches this weekend do that, and may people see revealed the love they need… and have. God’s.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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)
This fact does give us the historical context of quite a few points of The Way, but above all it emphasizes one of the basic traits of the book: the fact that it was written facing the world, looking for men and women who want to sanctify themselves in their earthly interests and activities, and proposing a teaching which can be applied to any type of age, circumstance, or work: “What amazes you seems quite natural to me: God has sought you out right in the midst of your work. That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, John and James, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the customhouse” (799). “You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you! Who thinks this is the exclusive concern of priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: ‘Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect’” (291). 1
Back when I was in college, I was taught and encouraged to preach a specific way.
To take a book of the Bible, and walk through it verse by verse, gaining nuggets of wisdom from the passage, especially from the Greek text. You also spend extensive time exploring the background of the passage, and how the people of that day would have understood the passage. All of the great preachers of that day claimed to preach this way! The preachers in my old non-denominational denomination and its sisters movements, and among that broad grouping know as evangelicals, and those who claimed to preach ‘through the Bible.” Many still do preach this way, and a lot of people prefer it.
Let me explain a few of the reasons I have moved away from expository and exegetical preaching. ( for the most part)
1. Exegetical Preaching Doesn’t Face the World
The line above, from the introduction to one of my favorite devotionals, describes the problem with expository/exegetical preaching. It doesn’t face the world. To be faithful to the passage and words in the text, your focus can become isolated from the people and focus only on the text, and what the text means. It is like the old priests and pastor tradition about doing most of the liturgy facing the altar, even if it means they have their back to the people.
When I was doing some doctoral level studies in preaching, one of the courses dealt with exegeting your congregation, your listeners. I struggled with this at first, but it makes sense. If you are going book by book, verse by verse, word by word through the scriptures, you may not be shepherding your people. You can be 100% faithful to the text, but to be faithful to what the people need means knowing them, understanding them, guiding them. If you are consistent with expository teaching, you will have to overlook their needs, or bend the passage.
2. The Issue of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the huge historical begat lists
The Book of Job sometimes astounds me, if you are going to preach it exegetically/ expositional.
Think about it. How much of the book is advice and counsel from those who will be confronted and humbled by God?
Going verse by verse through that book, or through parts of Ecclesiastes will be challenged by this. Do you want to take 15-20 minutes (or 45) talking about what isn’t a Godly message? Do you want to take all that time, week after week, with your primary emphasis on why it’s wrong, in that context?
3. It’s not the practice of the New Testament writers, even though they could have used the Old Testament that way. Romans isn’t an exposition of Isaiah. But the New Testament writers brought in texts from all over the Old Testament, to do one thing… the biggest thing!
4. THE BIGGEST ISSUE It doesn’t always preach Jesus.
Ultimately, in regards to my preaching, my job is to do one thing. As the Lutheran Confessions discuss, we are to give to people that which they need to know about Jesus. Why He was born, lived, why this is something that gives you the hope of salvation. That is what preaching is! It isn’t about making sure people know why all 613 Old Testament laws are there, We can talk about that at other times and other places; in Bible Studies and individual discipleship when those passages come into play.
People – all people – need to know God’s attitude toward them, and that is revealed by understanding the dimensions of His love, which is seen in the life and work of Jesus. That is gospel preaching, that is the good news, the giving of hope.
This is why our sermons reveal Him! It is why they are focused on God reconciling us to Himself through Christ, reconciling us into His glory! It is fulfilling His desire, helping you to know His love and mercy, to know He will give you the gifts He has promised….
That’s the job of a sermon.
You might call it an Apocalyptic preaching style, the unveiling of Christ to a people who need him, who need to know Him. For that is what the word apocalyptic means – to draw back the curtain and reveal that which is
To bring the message of all of scripture, the one message, to the people who God wants to hear it. So they can be cleansed, healed, and most importantly, His.
1 Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 128-134). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.