On Sunday I had the chance to preach at the ministry I served at for years. Here’s my message on Luke 19:1-10.
A few days ago I began a blog tour on Kent Eilers and Kyle Strobel’s 2014 book Sanctified by Grace. Over the next few days I will be posting some highlights from various chapters, concluding with a review of the book as a whole. Today I turn my attention to the chapter on preaching.
As a college minister I preach quite regularly. At times it can be a challenge (because preaching is always challenging)! But its extra challenging because I straddle the two seemingly opposing worlds of academic theology and pastoral/spiritual theology. Now most people would say, that these sorts of theology should never be in conflict – and I agree! I agree in principle, but in reality it doesn’t often work out as neatly as we would want it to work. Thankfully Eilers and Strobel have put together a book that helps straddle that gap. Here is what they say about this project:
Coordinating the doctrine of the Christian life to God’s economy of salvation and the practices which are fitting to redeemed existence is not one option among many. Rather, we suggest, this coordination between doctrine and life, belief and practices is integral to life within the movement of God’s Spirit. Within the dynamism of the Spirit’s formation, doctrine and life are pulled together in the broader picture of grace. (7)
Doctrine and life! Belief and practice! Pulled together! This is exactly what the church needs – and this is exactly what should be happening in our weekly preaching….
Preaching – William Willimon
Theology, the editors tell us, is never an end in itself; knowledge of God always breaks fort in love to others. A central outlet for this love is in preaching. (17) In the chapter on preaching Willimon emphasizes several things. First is that preaching revolves around
hearing a God who speaks. The task of listening is often overlooked when talking about preaching, but it shouldn’t be! Not only does the congregation listen, but the preacher listens as well! The preacher must listen faithfully to the biblical text just as the congregation must listen faithfully to the word being proclaimed. Listening is not just a skill to be developed though. Listening is a spiritual exercise that hinges on the conditions of our hearts.
But perhaps even more central than listening is to preaching lays the notion that God speaks, and that somehow we speak because God has spoken, and that somehow in our own preaching God speaks! We have a loquacious God – who in our day primarily reveals himself in preaching.
One thing that I really appreciated about this chapter is the importance Willimon places upon the task of preaching. Nowadays many people tend to see preaching as superfluous or as belonging to a bygone era. But according to Willimon this should not be so. A primary way that the Christian life is formed and sustained is by preaching. Willimon rightly points out that in our culture, where preaching is charged with being authoritarian, archaic, or a one-way act of communication, Christians must learn how to be properly attentive to preaching. (227) Thankfully Willimon lists out some helpful practices which will aid in our faithful listening to sermons. Here are a few:
- A willingness not to receive an immediate, practical, pay off from the sermon.
- The expectation that a sermon could disrupt one’s received world by verbally rendering the coming Kingdom of God.
- A patient willingness not to have every single sermon speak to you.
- An understanding that preaching is a communal activity. A sermon is public speech.
- A desire for a preacher, a pastor, who cares more for the right division of the Word of God than for the love or ire of the congregation.
- A relinquishment of our prerogative to talk about what we are obsessed with discussing (sex, family, security, health and a docile willingness to engage in a conversation with a living God, talking about what God wants to talk about.
- A vulnerability to the mysterious comings and goings of the Holy Spirit.
Life with a loquacious God demands disciplines of listening. These words from William Willimon are sure to help make us better listeners of this loquacious God.
Trevin Wax on Preaching to Non-Believers….
There is one thing Stanley and Keller agree on: preachers ought to be mindful of the unbelievers in their congregation.
Different Reasons for the Same Practice
Stanley and Keller may be worlds apart in terms of their theological vision for ministry, but they both maintain that a preacher should consider the unsaved, unchurched people in attendance.
This doesn’t mean we can’t find differences even in this area. For example, Stanley uses the terminology of “churched” and “unchurched” (which makes sense in the South), whereas Keller’s context leads him to terms like “believers” and “non-believers.”
Likewise, Stanley and Keller engage in similar practices from different vantage points. Stanley’s purpose for the weekend service is to create an atmosphere unchurched people love to attend. Keller believes evangelism and edification go together because believers and unbelievers alike need the gospel. He writes:
“Don’t just preach to your congregation for spiritual growth, assuming that everyone in attendance is a Christian; and don’t just preach the gospel evangelistically, thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. Evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.”
Whether you are closer to Stanley’s paradigm for ministry or Keller’s, you can benefit from a few suggestions for how to engage the lost people listening to you preach.
You can read the rest of the blog here.
However, if you don’t like links – here are the main points:
1. Acknowledge and welcome the non-believers in attendance.
2. Assume the non-believers in attendance need help in approaching the Bible.
3. Challenge non-believers to engage the Bible by acknowledging the oddity of Christian belief and practice.
4. Use cultural commonalities to point out worldview inconsistencies.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95
God loathed that generation! If you are like me that is so hard to grasp – God Loathed them! Why because they complained against God and hardened their hearts against him. How can God loath his chosen people? How does that even make sense? In one of John Webster’s sermons on this very Psalm he addresses how this can be. Honestly its one of the best explanations of God’s wrath and hatred and anger that I have ever read…
Now, if we are to hear Holy Scripture aright at this point, we must be very careful. We read of God “loathing” this generation, of God’s anger against them. But if we are to make sense of that, we must not fall into the idea that God becomes another God—a God without grace, a God without mercy, a God who is not the redeemer and guardian of his people. God’s anger against this wicked generation does not mean that God abandons his covenant. It does not mean that God casts off his people forever, and that his promises are at an end. God’s purpose stands fast. His ways will be brought to completion. No sin, no rebellion, no refusal of God, can overthrow the determination of God. If our sins could stand between us and God, then no one would ever have been saved. God has never and will never go back on his avowed purpose that he will be our God and we will be his people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. God is infinitely greater than all our sins.
Because this is so, then this “loathing” and “anger” of God does not mean that God rejects his people and that he is no longer with them. But it does mean that his presence is the terrifying presence of the judge of all. And that presence purifies by destroying evil. God’s anger is not just sheer destructive rage, the kind of thing which afflicts human beings and leads them to smash everything in their sight. God’s anger is God setting aside the evil which we sinners have allowed to invade us and take over our lives. It is the fearful energy of his holiness; it is his refusal to let sin have the upper hand. Through his anger, God eradicates sin and evil from the world. And he eradicates evil with a purpose: He eradicates it in order that righteousness and holiness might flourish; he attacks sin to establish the good order of human life. God’s anger is not God on the rampage; it is the form of God’s love. It is God refusing to let sin triumph; it is God not allowing his people to destroy themselves. God’s anger is his faithfulness to the covenant, the purifying power of his love. It doesn’t send us to hell; it rescues us from hell.
Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian. (D. Bush & B. Ellis, Eds.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
I am getting married in a few months. As I think more and more about it I get excited, and not just for the wedding night. I am really looking forward to “the first look.” It’s a tradition that has fallen out of vogue in the last several years, but I think it’s a beautiful tradition. I think it paints a beautiful picture of the gospel. In case you don’t know about it, the “first look” is the tradition where the groom doesn’t see the bride until she comes walking down the aisle. He avoids her all day long so that he won’t even accidentally catch a glimpse of her.
My future bride and I decided to do a “first look”. So there is that moment, the first look, when the I am going to see for the first time. I am going to get to my bride in all her glory. It’s the moment when I see her for the first time as my bride.
If you are ever at a wedding I invite you to pay attention to the groom at that moment. Look at his face, look at his expression. Stare into his eyes, its really a unique experience. I believe that it is actually a glimpse of the gospel. The look on the groom’s face paints a vivid picture of Jesus excitement to have us. But even that look of excitement on the groom’s face pales in comparison to how excited Jesus is to be with us! Jesus eagerly waits for us because we are his inheritance. The gospel says We were an inheritance so worthy that Jesus was even willing to give his life in order to get us. That is what the bible means when it says that Jesus purchased us with his blood.
Jesus desperately waits for the day when he will be forever united with his bride, with his church, that means that Jesus is eagerly awaiting the day when he will see you revealed in all of your sanctified glory.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
In his book, An Essential Guide to Public Speaking, Quentin Shultze Professor of Communication at Calvin College writes about what it means to be a servant speaker. He says that the point of speech is not to serve oneself but rather it is to serve others in love… check out what he has to say:
The essence of speaking life is using language responsibly to serve others. Selfish speech eventually gets us into trouble whereas life-giving speech serves others as we would want to be served. Therefore, the most important question to ask ourselves in preparing a speech is how we intend to serve the audience responsibly as neighbors. We need to write and rewrite that purpose until we are absolutely sure it is clear and focused on our audience.
Although this book is written isn’t written intentionally for preachers there is a ton to draw out from it for preaching. For me this concept, that we are supposed to be servant speakers, has changed the way I think about preaching. My job as I go up on stage to preach is to serve my audience by pointing people to Jesus. If my sermon does not accomplish this explicit purpose in a clear manner, then I am not serving my audience well.
Questions for Reflection:
- Are you being a servant speaker?
- How does your audience need to be served?
- How could you accomplish this more effectively?
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. -Habakkuk 2:14
This is God’s intention for his creation. The earth was created to be, a place that displays all of God’s glory.
This verse expresses the culmination of all of history. “Heaven” isn’t the end. Heaven isn’t the goal. The goal is the recreation/reformation of the earth so that it can contain the full glory of God. But catch this, God’s glory isn’t some hard to understand ethereal concept. Scripture is very very clear about what God’s glory is. Hebrews tells us that:
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Jesus is God’s glory! So the day that Habakkuk (and Isaiah) is (are) predicting is actually the day when all of creation will know Jesus. That day is the day when Jesus is fully revealed as Lord. Until that day Christians catch small glances and glimpses of that coming reality. So whenever Jesus is glorified, whenever Jesus is sung about in our churches, whenever Jesus is preached about in our sermons, whenever Jesus is revealed in our love for our neighbor we catch a small glimpse of the day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Whenever anything points to Jesus we participate in that coming day.
So here is the challenge: live today in a way that shows proleptically that this day has is a reality. Live in such a way that points to and reveals Jesus, because the revelation of Jesus is the end of all things.