By Bob Hiller –
I doubt Eugene Peterson tweets. But, thank God, somebody has set up a Twitter account to share his genius with us every day! The other day, the Peterson tweeter sent out this thought provoking gem: “It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in…the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest.” Now every preacher of Christ’s Good News knows how true this is. It is not uncommon for pastors who emphasize grace to hear from a very well intentioned parishioner, “You know, preacher, we get that Jesus died to forgive our sins. But what now? Don’t you have something for us to do?” Peterson is right, it doesn’t take long for boredom with the gospel to set in.
But, before I sound like I’m picking on those rare saints who, in this world of sin, still diligently listen to preaching, it is important to point out that we preachers are among those who seem to be losing interest in the Gospel as well. Every week we are called to proclaim the same Good News to Christ’s sheep. Sure, they may grumble about having to eat the same blasted manna every morning, but there are times when we get tired of serving the same meal. The news starts to sound less “good” the more we preach it. If we are honest, we preachers are getting bored and we are tempted to break in with something else, some new law, some pious guidance that is not Jesus. Boredom with the Gospel is as much a sin for preachers as it is for the hearers.
I suppose there are a lot of reasons why our interest waxes and wanes. The devil tries to convince us there is something better worth talking about. Our sinful nature would rather hear about its own guilt or duty than Christ’s blood, just so long as it is the center of attention. The world is also hard at work trying to sell us other messages that distract us from listening to the Gospel. Just think about the news cycle in our society. It seems to train us to move on from one news story to the next as quickly as we possibly can. We live in a world plagued by “breaking news.”
As I was driving home from work listening to sports talk radio, it struck me that preachers are fighting an up hill battle in trying to preach the old, old story of Jesus and His love. I was reveling in the February California sun, when the radio proclaimed those joyful words “Pitcher and catchers report.” This is that marvelous phrase from our Americana liturgy which announces Spring Training has begun and Opening Day for Major League Baseball is just around the corner. Then, in the midst of my joy, I heard one of the strangest advertisements I could imagine. The radio said, “We will be reporting live from Spring Training for all your breaking news!” Breaking news from Spring Training? What could possibly be that important in baseball’s training camp that it would constitute being called breaking news? Is some double A catcher’s shot at playing with a triple A pitcher news at all? There are hardly any stories worth pursuing that come out of Spring Training, let alone stories that could be considered “breaking news.”
“Breaking news” used to be news that was so important that it required television stations to interrupt regularly scheduled programming with a dire report. Breaking news used to be what happened when Good Morning America was interrupted to show a plane flying into the twin towers. Now, it would seem, “breaking news” just means the top story for the night. Or worse, it is a phrase used to describe a report on the number of pitches Clayton Kershaw threw in three innings of work.
If you read my blog at all, you know that I am growing more and more cynical about the way media influences our culture and shapes our thinking. The media recognizes that if they want to grab and keep your attention, they need to make every story matter immensely, every report has to have massive consequences. The same old story won’t keep the ratings going. You need new, breaking stories to get the viewers interested. And once a story has lost interest it is time to break in with a new, more interesting story.
It is hard to preach into a context where our attention span has been trained to expect something new and exciting every time we turn on the news or we get bored. The same old story doesn’t excite our bellies like the new salacious detail coming out of Hollywood. Think about the media’s relationship with Trump. I actually think that the media loves our new president as every time he talks he provides fodder for a new, shocking story. He’s even made the media itself a story! How many “breaking” Trump stories have you seen on the MSN homepage just in the last three hours?
Those who preach and those who listen to sermons must both fight and pray against our lust for breaking news. We don’t need new and exciting sermons. We need Christ and His bloody cross put in our ears every single week. I don’t care how bored you are with preaching it and how bored people are with hearing it, pastor! The Lord has you under strict orders to deliver the same message this week! As dull and boring as it may sound, we all sinned again this week. A lot. And, as redundant as it might be, the Lord Jesus calls us all, again, to repent and believe the same old Good News: He forgives you for Christ’s sake! It is this same news that the Spirit uses to break into your sinful story of a life and set you free. I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before. But, it is my prayer, that you will hear it all again…and again…and again…unto life everlasting.