Sermons–They don’t exactly get good press these days. You hear people say such things as:
I don’t need a sermon
I don’t mean to preach to you
The last thing he needs is a sermon
These are not meant to be complimentary statements. No–far too often words like "long" and "boring" are placed next to the word "sermon."
I still think that hearing someone preach can be a special moment. In fact, I think that such a time can be a highly personal moment. No– I don’t mean using a public forum to talk to one cantankerous man or woman. I mean Holy Spirit-personal. I mean personal in a way that God’s message comes at you and in you with laser like precision. I mean the kind of message that is sharp, piercing, and accurate (Hebrews 4:12-13). Back to this in a moment…
Sometime, what people hear on Sunday morning could more fittingly be referred to as a "lecture." (My apologies in advance to those who lecture for a living. I don’t mean to imply that a lecture per se is bad or boring. Just different than what a Sunday message ought to be). The preacher is talking. True things are being said. No problem with this. Yet, if you are on the receiving end of such a message, it almost feels as if the preacher never even sees you. It is like being in conversation with someone who looks past you instead of looking you in the eye. Such a message doesn’t feel personal at all. You get the impression this preacher has put thoughts on a manuscript and is basically making a speech.
What is missing? This moment is not some casual chat (Is this preacher about to yawn?). Nor is it simply a demonstration of one’s rhetorical skill. Rather, this message is Gospel connecting with the innermost private places in a human being. This is the breathtakingly, dangerous Gospel that has the power to turn the world of a human being upside down.
This preacher is giving his body/soul to this ministry. On this Sunday morning, these people have their Bibles open. They want this to work! However, they have often been disappointed.
What makes this moment so personal? First, the preacher is being allowed to step into the private places of the people listening. The gospel is not just for the mind but also the heart, soul, emotions, and body. How personal! On a Sunday morning, I am allowed to slip into places where others don’t go. I am allowed to take the gospel and let it touch hurts from past years or from the past week:
- The man I knew years ago. Macho. Tough Guy. —-and he had been molested by some older boys when he was in junior high.
- The woman who had been scarred deeply by an abortion that she had as young single.
- The boy whose Daddy abandoned the family and who longed to be close to him again.
Tender areas? Yes. But the preacher may be allowed to go there with the Gospel. That alone makes this moment very special. But it is more than that.
It is personal because this preacher speaks to people who that morning feel defeated by sin and failure. This preacher may be looking into the eyes of these people:
- The sixteen year old girl who, less than twelve hours earlier, was at a friend’s house having sex with her boyfriend. Two weeks ago, she had told God she would never do that again.
- The businessman who lied in a tax return in order to save himself some money.
- The young woman who sits in her usual pew. She has a secret. She secretly plans to leave her husband. Yet, today she has her Bible open and is listening.
All of us who are a part of this ministry need to think about this. When people allow you to come into their lives through a message like this it is because of their faith in God and his Word. Most of us would give a nod to this.
Yet, it is also because they trust you–or at least they want to. They trust that you will not butcher them but that you will handle the word of God like a highly skilled surgeon. After all, you are fighting for their lives–their lives before God.
They trust that you are a person of integrity. They know you are not perfect. Many of them know that you don’t need to be on that pedestal even if they have placed you there. Yet, they have every right to trust that you are not living a double life. That you are not involved in something immoral or unethical during the week and then hold the Word of God before them on Sunday. This moment is far too personal but even more importantly, far too holy for such behavior.
Forget the silly caricatures on television. Forget those images of the benign, spineless minister who is either irrelevant or immoral. I can take you to some real preachers. The kind who every week come into assemblies, brush off the dust of the world, and who dare to look into the eyes of real live human beings. Human beings who have sinned. Human beings who hurt. Human beings who need to be taken to the cross once again. These preachers open the word of God and for a few moments something mysterious takes place.
There is nothing quite like it.