By Bob Hiller –
I am an avid fan of sports talk radio. I love sports. So, I enjoy hearing over-confident blowhards break down games, analyze trade rumors, and hopelessly try to explain how a salary cap works. Some radio shows are better than others, to be sure. But, so long as these preachers of sport do their job and break down what is happening on and even off the field, their shows are entertaining and insightful. Every now and then, if you get the right host with the right topic, sports talk can even offer assistance in figuring out just what the hell is going on here.
But, sometimes, sports talk can completely suck. Let me tell you a story about how my listening experience can be ruined (please bear with the following story of pettiness): Early in the last NBA season a pair of analysts at ESPN went after each other. Bill Simmons (who is a fantastic read over at Grantland) made a comment about how LeBron James is not looking like his old self and may be a bit washed up (comparing him to Albert Pujols). He said it was too early to make any real call about James, though, and that we needed at least 20 games to judge, pleading that his fellow analysts not attack him for his statement. Mike Golic, former NFL star and co-host of Mike and Mike in the Morning, ignored Simmons’ plea and responded the next day on his show by saying that the comments were ridiculous. Simmons, said Golic, was simply trying to “grab a headline…which I know he likes.” Basically, he called Simmons a media whore. Of course, this got Simmons fired up and so he did what all smart people do when angry, he went to Twitter to blast Golic. ESPN suspended Simmons for his tweets, which is ironic as they hired him precisely because he brings controversy. The next day on the radio all the ESPN sports talk shows were talking about the feud. That’s right, the sports talk show hosts were talking about the sports talk show hosts. Sports weren’t the story, the preachers of sport were.
Sports talk was ruined that day because these self-important knuckleheads were all so caught up in their own celebrity that they failed to do their job.
And that reminded me of preaching in our church today. We have a problem with this in the pulpits. Preachers have one job, to give you Jesus. As the Cantankerous Critic is so eloquent in saying, they simply need to hand over the goods. They are to wash you with Jesus’ water in baptism. They are to put Jesus in your ears from the pulpit. They are to place Jesus on your tongue in the sacrament of the altar. That’s it. That’s their job. Distribute Jesus and His gifts and get the hell out of the way (pun intended).
The problem is that preachers like to preach, well, themselves. Or the church. Or the culture. Or…well…anything but Jesus. Why? Though it may not be true for all preachers, perhaps one of the reasons is that preaching Jesus pushes the preacher out of the spotlight. His celebrity fades when the story of Christ takes over. When I get up in the pulpit and tell you some adorable story about my adorable kids, I can gain your adoration. When I offer some penetrating insight about how it is up to us to save the next generation from their debaucheries, you will praise me for be socially relevant. If I wax philosophical on the dangers of sex outside of marriage and the glories of sex in marriage, you will think me practical and edgy. And I will just bask in the self-aggrandizing glory of it all. Yet, if I preach a straight Law/Gospel sermon from the scripture, you will ask me to try preaching something different for a change. Most likely, I will sinfully and happily oblige. After all, we preachers love to be the story!
But, all this preaching of “not Christ” (to steal a phrase from Steven Paulson), as enjoyable and adorable as it might be, simply gives you a comfortable ride to hell. It is not sinful for pastors to use sermon illustrations or even illustrations from their own lives. But, if you leave your church giggling about the preacher and not condemned by your sins and refreshed by the preached Jesus, it very well could be that your pastor has failed you. He could be acting like nothing more than a self-important knucklehead who has failed to do his job. (Believe me, I know what its like, I am guilty of this…)
If the story in your church is your pastor and not Jesus dead and risen for you, your church is in serious danger. For you the Lord Jesus became incarnate in a virgin’s womb, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, took your sins upon His back, bled and died to cancel the accusations of the law against you, rose again to proclaim you eternally right with God, killed and raised you in baptism, feeds you His body and blood in bread and wine, and is coming again on the most terrifying and hopeful of days. All for you. And yet, your pastor may withhold these gifts because he gives you (or you want to hear) a cute story about the first diaper he changed?
We need pastors to not be the story. It is time for us preachers to get over ourselves, do our jobs, and hand over the goods.