Putting together a decent sermon is no easy task. This is not a complaint, it just is. As Nathan Aaseng comments in his September 16, 2014 column, Preaching to People Whose Theologies Differ from Mine, many of the people to whom we preach don’t share our theology. He writes, “I preach to people who believe things that I don’t believe.” This difference in our theologies, this gap, is what makes preaching so tough.
As a result, we might hear all sorts of things about our preaching from our people. For example, it is always interesting to read confirmation sermon notes. You may think you preached a whole sermon on God’s never-ending love based on Romans 8 and yet a confirmation student will write that the main point of the sermon is “We must be nice so we go to heaven.” Hmmm … Often it’s not that different with the adults. “Pastor,” I just love your Children’s Sermons. I get so much more out of them than I do your regular sermons.” I won’t mention to them that it’s Christ the King Sunday and I completely forgot about the Children’s Sermon until about fifteen minutes beforehand so I ran out and cut some small tree branches and wound them together for a lamentable little crown. Meanwhile, I spent hours on my sermon to thoughtfully and articulately convey the theology of the cross. It is what it is.
But then I am reminded by good pastors like Nathan to love my people and preach the gospel, and for him and his words, I am grateful, for they call me back to what we’re about. Still, even at my current congregation, Mercy Seat, which is a pretty enlightened theological bunch, I feel the pressure to preach on anything but the cross and resurrection. Like a siren’s song, it’s easy to be pulled into the vaguely dark and foggy shores of internet sermons because after all, who is listening anyway?
And yet, I still believe that this good news of God in Christ absolutely loving people is the best news we can ever hear. Although to many folks, it may seem like merely one more piece of information that comes at them. Anyone who has been broken open by this love will tell you it’s not merely an idea, neither is it knowledge; rather, it’s the best news we could possibly hear. It changes us when we hear, really hear, that we and others are beloved children of God and nothing in all God’s creation can separate us from that love. And so, we preachers get up there again and again — even in the dog days of Matthew’s parables — and proclaim that word. We do it because we believe that the word is living and that if it doesn’t break through to bored and ambivalent hearts that day, maybe next week it will.
Because of this gospel, we know that God did not want to remain in the heavens. Infinity folds upon itself and flesh and light, breath and time are born. And though the promise has never changed, God chose to become particular promise in Christ, to love us, a particularly difficult creature at times and to enter our particular time and place. And this God, a creator beyond all our measures, chose us, in wild and magnificent love. The universe is stunned; time and space shudder in this gospel illumination. And now, our sorrow and our hopes are taken into God. And in this God, the only thing that remains fixed, the sole certainty, is a heartbreaking gospel, this magnificent love.
How can we not preach this?