The last few sermons I have preached back at Westminster have been some of the best reviewed sermons I’ve given in a while. This is certainly not to brag, though I suppose a blog is exactly the space for a person to puff themselves up. I don’t really think that the popularity of these sermons has anything to do with my homiletical game. I can tell because the compliments are not the usual “Hey, when you opened your mouth full English sentences came out. That surprised us. Well done!” that I receive on a weekly basis. The most common phrase I heard in the aftermath of these sermons was “I needed to hear that.” As a preacher, could you honestly ask for anything more? An affirmation that your proclamation of the Word of God was so honest and true that a thirsty Christian came away feeling like they got a glass of water? In the most theologically correct language: Boo yah!
So what did I preach about? What was it that was so powerful that many people came up and offered their thanks for the message?
The first week, which was actually the first Sunday in July, we talked about Galatians 5, one of my favorite texts:
It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
Freedom yo. It was fourth of July weekend, and so to celebrate I took a good hard look at what freedom in Christ is like. Note that this text says that Christ has set you free. Not that it might some day. Not that Christ will set you free if you follow the right doctrinal statement or theological system. You are free now. What you do with that is up to you. You can use that freedom for good, and try to spread the good news to people who are desperate for it. Or you can just roll over again into slavery. You can give up all that freedom that Christ has given you, and just fall back into the same sins again and again and again. Essentially, I preached the gospel.
Now, that particular Sunday there was a testimony given by a member of the congregation, and it was communion Sunday, so with the time crunch my sermon was only about 10 minutes long. So naturally I expected people to like it, because I got them to golf sooner! But again, it wasn’t that they liked the sermon. The phrase that came up again and again was “I needed to hear that.” So I found that rather interesting. In a church, where a sermon is preached week after week after week, what people feel like the need to hear is the straight up gospel message.
So I drove a little bit farther in that direction. I had the pulpit for all three services this week, and I decided to talk about resurrection. Not just Christ’s resurrection, though surely that’s a critical piece of our faith, but more about what Christ’s resurrection allows us to do. Christ’s resurrection allows us to move from death to life, to move from gossip to care, from envy to encouragement, from idolatry to worship, from greed to charity. It was the essential argument that the gospel matters in our world here and now, not just as some kind of fire insurance for when we die. It was, essentially, the gospel message again.
Now if you find yourself a preacher like myself, don’t you think from time to time that the gospel is too simple? Surely the folks in our congregation have already sorted that part of the faith out right? We don’t need to hash that out again. We can move on to something sexier, like gay marriage or Christian morality or something like that. No need to cover those bases again.
Go ahead and take a moment to look at the news. Don’t you think that this is exactly what the world needs to hear? The good news that sin and death are beaten by Christ, and we don’t need to submit to them any farther. People are desperate for that!
But then I get a little bit sad when I see what Christians are known for in the news. We aren’t spreading good news at all. I mean if we’re spreading good news, people should be liberated from something should they not? If we’re spreading Christ’s gospel, shouldn’t someone be liberated from sin or death, able to live their lives freely and graciously? When I see how the Church responds to the issues we have decided to respond to (don’t be fooled, we pick and choose what issues are important to us) I see very little liberation. I see condemnation and retribution and inflammation, but I don’t see liberation. That’s a shame. And as I’ve thought about it more, I think the J-Blog could be a place where we could spread some good news through the big news stories of our day. Hopefully I won’t be so lazy so as to allow more of that to happen here.
But in the mean time, how can we be good news in our very own neighborhood? Right in our back yard, how can we be good news? Can you spread the good word among your friends and family? Can you liberate those who are stuck in a cycle of death and dying by speaking the simple love of Christ into their lives?