Meta-Sermon: A Sermon about Preaching

Written by Joel on March 23rd, 2011

The pulpit and chancel at St. Luke's (County Line)

Feb 27, 2011
Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Sermons are meant to help us live in the mystery of Christ.

Notes:

A minister gave his Sunday morning service, as usual, but this particular Sunday, it was considerably longer than normal. Later, at the door, shaking hands with parishioners as they moved out, one man said, “Your sermon, Pastor, was simply wonderful – so invigorating and inspiring and refreshing.”

The minister of course, broke out in a big smile, only to hear the man add, “Why I felt like a new man when I woke up!”

In our final reading from 1 Corinthians for this season, Paul shares some of his self-understanding of Christian leadership. He begins in chapter 4 “This, then, is how you ought to regard us.” Us, referring to himself and Apollos, the apostles which God sent to Corinth to build the church there. This is a text about what it means to be a Christian leader: a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries.

It was that particular phrase which struck me so profoundly this week in my preparation for Sunday “stewards of God’s mysteries.” Our NIV translates that word for steward as “those entrusted.” It conjures images of a house manager, one who oversees his master’s affairs and wealth; distributing what is not his own. Or we could even think of it in the modern sense of a steward – a flight attendant immediately comes to my mind. They welcome you on behalf of the airline they work for, and they distribute their own particular mysteries, such as airline food.

Christian leaders, Paul says, are stewards of the mysteries. Mysteries being those things which are hidden from knowledge, those things which are bigger than ourselves – that which has been revealed by God.

But what might it mean to apply this idea of “stewardship of mysteries” to Christian leaders? That they would share with others those hidden truths which God has revealed through his son and his word. Christian leaders reveal God’s mysteries in many ways, but one obvious way (which we are participating in right now), I believe is through preaching. And I wanted to take an opportunity this morning for us to explore the purpose of sermons within a worship service.

Sermons do seem just a little odd in the context of worship. The focus of our worship is God, we sing hymns to him, we pray to him, we read the word he gave us, we give offer him our gifts, and then for about 15 minutes in the middle of service some guy hops up and gives a sermon…to us. It seemingly changes the focus of the service.

Someone told me once that when she was growing up she always thought the sermon was a break from worship so that the preacher could say whatever he or she wanted to say, and then we would get back on to the real business of worship with the creed which followed the sermon.

Other Christian traditions which place quite an emphasis on preaching might invite you to their church by saying “Would you like to come hear our pastor preach.”

But the sermon is not a time-out from worship, and it is certainly not meant to be focus of the worship service. Its purpose is not to entertain, or even to tell you how to live a better life. Sermons are one way in which Christian leaders help the hearers to live in the mystery of God. To hear the stories of old, to experience God revealed, to hear the word of God.

I may not be the most humorous preacher in the world, nor the most entertaining. I will admit that it is possible that I am the most good looking – but that is beside the point. I strive to fill this role and this call from God not to serve myself but as Paul tells the Corinthians to serve Christ. And that means preaching the scriptures which God has given us as difficult as they may be, and quite often they are difficult scriptures. I love preaching “Jesus loves you,” but God’s hatred of sin is in the bible also. I know that at least the last two Sundays have covered some quite difficult topics – divorce and church division. I preached on those topics because they were in the text; and striving to be a faithful steward I shared them with you.

I would like to share with you some of the ways we strive to be a faithful stewards of God’s word here at St. Luke’s County Line. And I say we because I believe that preaching is not a one-person activity. It is a community event.

Here at St. Luke’s we follow the discipline of following the Revised Common Lectionary to determine our Sunday readings. You may or may not know that I do not choose what we read each week, but I consult the lectionary. It is followed by a great many different denominations and is growing in popularity. In fact it is quite likely that when you go home and talk to your family and friends about Sunday services you may discover that the readings were the same. In this way the church can celebrate more unity by sharing common texts in worship. It also helps us to read scripture in a systematic way. By using a lectionary we will have read a substantial portion of the entire bible over a period of 3 years. By covering the whole bible it also forces preachers, and those in the pews, to wrestle with difficult texts of God’s word. I know of some preachers who basically preach the same sermon week in and week out. But God’s word is much deeper than any one bible verse or any one sermon.

Also at St. Luke’s we read 3 texts from the lectionary. The first reading is from the OT or from Acts in the season of Easter. The second reading is often an epistle, and the third is the Gospel. I would love to explore with you the idea of including the 4th reading (which we currently omit) – from the Psalms, the great hymn book of the church, which hosts deep and honest prayers made to God. I know of some churches and preachers which often read a single solitary verse of scripture and then jump off into their own topic. But here at St. Luke’s we strive to be good stewards of the word and let God’s word speak on its own. We value God’s word quite highly; in fact the time we spend reading scripture is nearly as long as the sermon – and I believe this is a good thing, letting scripture speak for itself.

We will continue to gather for the worship of God and we will hear sermons within that context. Listen for the word of God to be proclaimed in this place. We proclaim the word of God not always to be comforted, but to be challenged. Not to be entertained. Not always to be up-lifted, but sometimes we are convicted. Preaching is not a solo activity, but a community event.

Hear the word of God in the Sunday morning sermon and live in the mystery proclaimed.


 

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