I could feel the scorching wrath of Martin Luther bearing down on me as I faced the congregation from the pulpit at the beginning of the funeral sermon.
The deceased had apparently engaged in a lifelong feud with Luther over the value of the book of James. Harold really liked James, the book that Luther once dismissed as an “epistle of straw.” As his final salvo in his theological war against Dr. Luther, Harold had requested that the sermon text for his funeral come from that letter.
At first I wondered about the wisdom of placing myself in the crossfire between two such strong-willed characters as Harold and Luther. But in the end, I was both surprised and pleased to discover that the sermon, based on James, was as grace-filled and Gospel-filled as any that I had given which brings us to the topic of sermon texts.
I have encountered enough pastors lately who preach only from the Gospel text that I feel compelled to justify my apparently apostate policy of preaching about one fourth of the time from the Old Testament reading, one fourth of the time from the Second Reading, and only half from the Gospel reading.
I admit that our liturgy makes this awkward by skewing the service in favor of all gospels, all the time. It is standard procedure in many of our churches to have a lay reader handle the first and second readings, from the lesser status position of the lectern, without acclamation, to a seated congregation. The gospel enters the stage to its own introductory music, with the congregation’s mandatory standing at attention, and is read only by “the professional,” from the elevated status position of the pulpit.
It always feels weird making the gospel reading the headliner, and then ignoring it and focusing the sermon on the local band that’s just the opening act for the headliner that everyone came to see.
But my reasons for straying from one of the four gospels as sermon text are many. The main one is: don’t we proclaim the Bible as The Book of Faith? If so, then why do we act in worship as though the Bible is only seven percent real beef and ninety three percent filler, with sixty two of the sixty six books in it so inconsequential that they aren’t even worth talking about?
Then, in our policy as a church, we turn around and base so many of our decisions that directly affect peoples’ lives not on the four gospels but on those sixty two books worth of inconsequential filler−on the readings that most people in the congregation never hear about.
As a preacher, I am called to proclaim the Gospel, not the gospels. As I discovered with the book of James, the Bible IS our Book of Faith, and the Gospel rings clear throughout it.
Genesis provides a ringing statement about the self-giving nature of the Creator. Exodus speaks eloquently of God’s work in setting humanity free from bondage. The Psalms proclaim the wondrous love of God. Where will you find a clearer announcement of Good News than in Isaiah? Where will you find a bolder definition of grace than in Jonah?
Is there anything in the gospels that so clearly articulates the theology of the cross as in Romans and Galatians? Where are the promises of God more dramatically stated than in Revelation?
I am curious to know how many pastors today preach from the gospel texts only. I would also like to hear the arguments for preaching only from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
But until I’m otherwise educated, I will continue in my ignorance to preach the Gospel from the entire Book of Faith.