By Bob Hiller –
Somewhere along the way, I was taught that sermons should always be about Jesus. Further into my training, I learned that this doesn’t just mean that we should talk about what Jesus did a long time ago, but that what Jesus did a long time ago is for you here and now. The proclamation of the Good News (that is, the Gospel) is not simply an explanation of sacred events, but the delivering of sacred gifts, which in itself is a sacred event. Preaching is delivering Jesus to sinners and attacking those things that try to get in His way. At least it should be. At least, that is what I was taught.
But, along the way, I find that this simple idea is not necessarily the norm. If I am reading the preaching landscape correctly (and I could be wrong, I’m more than happy to be corrected here!), many other topics and purposes have trumped the delivering of Jesus to the sinner’s ear. Topics ranging from the Christian life to finances to sexuality to politics to environmental stewardship have become central themes in the pulpit. Jesus and His scriptures gets paid lip service in these sermons, but faithful practice seems to be the main thrust. In other words, sermons tend to be life-draining marching orders, not life-giving gifts.
One of the reasons this is happening, I think, is simply boredom. That is, preachers and congregants alike tend to get bored by the same “Jesus” message every week. We get far more excited about ourselves than we do about our Lord. So, preaching about “me” is going to be more exciting for the preacher and more engaging for the hearer. When we know it is going to be the same message about the same Jesus doing the same forgiving, we tend to lose interest. But, our interest (at least in this way) is not Jesus’ concern. His business is more important than our interests. He’s not going to change His message to merely to keep us engaged.
It’s like the UConn women’s basketball team. The lady Huskies just won their fourth straight national championship this year. This is after going undefeated this season and winning their last 75 (!) games. They won, to no one’s surprise, by beating Syracuse 82-51. They simply don’t know how to lose.
This is why I didn’t watch. Well, that and because I don’t really follow women’s college basketball. But, having a team that dominant makes the game a bit boring. Where’s the drama? Where’s the excitement? I mean, if Syracuse had kept it close, it may be worth turning on. But, once the Huskies are up by 15, everyone knows how the game is going to turn out. So, I won’t watch.
But, should the Huskies care? Of course not! They have their business to attend to. They are on the court to win, not please the casual fan. Sure, sports are a form of entertainment, but teams aren’t coached to be entertaining, but to win. So, though the dominance of the Huskies may not be great for ratings, it should not change the goal or play of the team. They don’t care that you are bored, nor should they be.
Preachers and hearers who get bored by the preaching of the Gospel need to keep in mind that preaching is not about entertainment, or even keeping interest, but about delivering Jesus. It’s about attacking that sin you won’t let go. It’s about setting prisoners free. It’s where Jesus is about His business of giving His gifts. If that doesn’t interest you, fine. But, please step out of the way, because Jesus has business to attend to.
Now, I am sure there is someone reading this who is saying, “Yes, but the Bible talks about many of the things you listed earlier: Christian living, discipleship, sexuality, politics, and even environmental stewardship! Since these are Biblical themes, should they not be preached?” Of course! Absolutely, but not as an end unto themselves. And, most certainly not at the cost of preaching Christ for sinners. The Gospel of Jesus, His person and His work, is the driving force behind all preaching so that, when these themes come up, the Gospel forms and informs their place in the sermon and, thus, the life of the Christian.
See, I worry that we preachers are too bored with the Gospel and so when we come across a passage that speaks to some other theme we use that passage as an excuse not to preach Christ. But, the reality is, that all the passages of scripture have to do with Jesus. A sermon on discipleship that doesn’t begin and end with Jesus carrying His cross for the one whom He calls to follow will only leave hearers dead. A sermon on stewardship that ignores all Jesus gave up for the church ignores the way Paul, in 2 Corinthians for example, see’s Christ’s giving as the foundation for our giving (and how this is gift before it is example). Even sermons on wisdom literature (like the Proverbs), which ignore Christ as the Wisdom of God and giver of all good gifts, leave the hearer with mere morality talks. We don’t need church for morality talks. We don’t need the church for guidance on life. We need the church for Jesus. And it’s His life, His death, His resurrection for you which informs every page of scripture and every sermon from the pulpit.
We preachers have to fight to recover the word “preaching.” Sermons are not religion lectures or interesting talks on biblically informed ethics. Nor are they to be rhetorical entertainment. They are the means by which Jesus gets into our ears. They are attacks on evil, declarations of innocence for Christ’s sake, and guides in the war against Satan. They are these because they give Jesus. No matter how monotonous it may be, we must work harder than hell to keep the Gospel of Christ-for-us at the center, because hell seems to be doing a good job of fixing our eyes on anything and everything else.