My sermon on character last Sunday was vigorous, even bracing. In a day when truthfulness feels like it is in retreat, I offered five different ways to test ourselves, search our souls, and examine our integrity. None were easy. All were strenuous.
Yet you welcomed the challenge. It didn’t surprise me. Why? First, we describe our FCC brand as authentic. We understand church as a place to tell more of the truth of our lives rather than just exchange pleasantries or prop up appearances. We embrace that. Also, it was a down-to-earth, practical message we can apply to daily life. As Americans, a very practical people, we love that kind of message.
So everything’s hunky-dory, right? Why not weekly approach preaching like that? Not so fast. It is one thing to preach a practical, down-to-earth, readily applicable sermon on character, or three keys for dealing with conflict, or common pitfalls in communication. We can break them down into parts and put them back together. They are challenging realities, yes, but not nearly so difficult or promising as the sacred mysteries revealed in the stories of Israel or Jesus bringing us unto God.
I don’t stand before you to spin out my pet themes or favorite insights and bask in adulation as the fixer of your lives. The gospel cuts much deeper than touching us up a little. I am sure you’ve noticed, our problems as humans are much more serious than that. Why, most Sundays, I don’t even pick the text that I preach on. They are assigned to me (called a lectionary) to prevent me from becoming your ultra-groovy avatar of self-fulfillment. Most of the texts are intractably mysterious. Like the one this week on the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and his sisters’ grief.
Believe me, we’d quickly lose interest in church if God’s Word weren’t as deeply mysterious and layered as the lives we lead. So often after hearing the stories of God’s rescue project to save humankind, people will say, “I don’t understand.” I get it. I’ve preached the three-year cycle of lectionary texts now 13 times. And I still don’t fully understand either. We don’t so much understand these texts as we stand under them, hear them afresh, glean the hidden meanings and absorb new insights with new experience. We don’t grasp them so much as they grasp us. We don’t take Jesus’ parables apart and put them back together again so much as they take us apart and put us back together, as the people he wants us to be.
To be honest, even more than you not getting it or rejecting my message, I fear domesticating the gospel, reducing it to schemes and rendering it powerless. The gospel isn’t something we’ve chosen. It is the power of God that has chosen us.Finally, faith isn’t very plausible, predictable, expected or conventional. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So will you open your heart with me in worship? Will you open yourself as God’s wild and improbable mysteries have their way with us? It requires us to let go of our powers and competencies, and trust what God gives.
Finally, faith isn’t very plausible, predictable, expected or conventional. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So will you open your heart with me in worship? Will you open yourself as God’s wild and improbable mysteries have their way with us? It requires us to let go of our powers and competencies, and trust what God gives.