Sunday, May 08, 2005

Why a sermon?

What is the purpose of a Sunday morning sermon?

I have observed a few reasons. And if my observations be true, then my observations of the expressions of these reasons is . . . ugly.

Reason #1: to teach people how to live. Holiness, righteousness, lights in a dark world, pure and blameless. Words found in the Words of God (a.k.a. "the Bible") that describe how He desires His children to live. FURTHER, sin kills. Living God's way leads to life while living outside God's way(s) leads to death (cf. Gal. 5). So the sermon is about living correctly ("righteousness").

Reason #2: so people can have "spiritual food" and can "grow." I am dismissing #2 due to the following. The words of God ARE referred to as milk. Jesus said to Satan, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God." Problem: both of these passages are not speaking of the words of God but rather the LIVING of the words of God. Jesus goes on to say, later, "I have other food . . . to do the will of my father." To separate the words from the request from the expression is illegitimate Biblically. Further, look at the word "grow" and how it is used even in the contemporary, U.S. Church. It implies someone is getting "better" - more or better expression. So Food and Growth are actually up to the "hearer" not the sermon.

Reason #3: so people can know God better - "more fully." I like this one, actually. The Bible contains the story of the greatest Main Character ever. So expanding, reading, explaining, reporting on Him is always a good thing. The idea of "know" in this sense being more than fact: fact plus story plus relationship plus experience plus . . . But do we ever do this?

Here's the illegitimate child that comes from the current expression of the union of #1 and #3. We (sermon givers) speak of how people are to live correctly. We seldom speak of God Himself (e.g. when was the last time there was a sermon about God Himself that did not include some kind of application for me to live out, something I could do the next week). What I fear has happened:
#1 = How plus to live correctly
#3 = Know plus God
Reality = Know plus living correctly

Sick. Proposal for change. #1 - stop teaching and start doing. For example, if a local church is excited about loving its volunteers, then exit the "worship center"(??!?) and circle the children's wing and PRAY (thanks, protection, etc.). #3 - stop giving sermons that even COULD have direct application (i.e. doable by every listener w/in the next 7 days) and simply teach on God. I dare say that telling a sermon giver that he/she will have to give sermons on God for 50 weeks will scare the pants off them. FIFTY WEEKS?!?! What will I say? A sad state when the professional God- person cannot speak on God for 50 weeks.

Another way to say the same thing: sermon-givers have replaced the Holy Spirit. People know the sermon-giver better than their God (#3). Sermon-givers tell people (a.k.a. "convict," "lead," and other words that the Spirit is stated to do) what to do (#1).

I have mastered the illegitimate sermon. This is my own self-discipline. I see this in others because "it takes one to know one" and "he who smelt it dealt it." "Child-like" faith has some interesting ramifications, yes?

Talk about me OR talk about you

[The following is a distillation and extrapolation of thoughts and an observation I received from my wife, Tara.]

Christians in the U.S. are notorious for gossip. That, however, is not what this is about. Even if the following has no gossip involved, the following proposal still stands . . . as a proposal.

I propose this (that's code for, "I currently have a thought that I think I might like someday, but I really need to think through it and I really need to have other people challenge and/or expand it):

-- people who do not have much to say about their own life but only seem to talk about other people are, 94.7% of the time, living without personal growth --

I tire of conversations about other stuff WHEN there is no conversation about who I am talking with. Not in that prying, pre-gossip way. If I ask most people (including friends) what's going on, I'll get surface answers or situations. But seldom if ever will someone tell me what they are going through personally. I appreciate that they don't want to gossip or speak negative about someone else. But is that ALL that happens to Believers on a personal level? Is there no celebration of what God IS doing? Is ALL growth only from pain? Is all celebration, then, a post-pain party!!?! Are all Believers relegated to simply learning how to "praise God in the midst of trials?" Is there NOTHING positive that happens without difficulty?

I propose that the answer to the above questions is, "no." I have met some as of late who ARE willing to speak of their lives AND whose lives are not all filled with sorrow. The celebration of the adoption of a child. The joy does NOT come from the companion "low" of not having a child by natural methods. It just comes from adopting a child. And from experiencing the Biblical idea of adoption. And from rescuing a child from a usually-destructive future. And from fulfilling what they believe the Spirit has led them to do.

So therein lies my proposal. I should dare-say that if one does agree with this, then they are obliged to (1) speak of what is going on and (2) find what God is doing without pain.