Pr. Eric Swensson
January 9, 2013
My wife and I listened to a sermon the other day. She asked me about it a few hours later, “What did you think of that sermon?” I hesitated, weighing my words. For one thing my sixteen year-old son was there, also. You see, that is my family; there are three of us and I am the house father. I view this as my primary congregation and am very aware of the importance of this duty and how it is I fail at it, so when I have a chance to plainly teach something I want to choose my words carefully. The truth is I thought the sermon was like so many we hear today, not so bad but not so good from my point of view as a Lutheran Christian. So from what I can remember this is what was said:
I said, “It was OK. What did you think?” I was not being a weasel here, I needed to know what was on her mind, that is, what am I really commenting upon.
She said, “I wasn’t inspired by it.”
OK. Well, neither was I, but still what is the most important thing here to say here? See, the sermon was OK. It followed a clear plan and was delivered well and taught something worth knowing, but I felt it was not only uninspiring, it could have been said in one sentence and did not 15-20 minutes of our time. The preacher could have said, “You along with the rest of us fail to _______ and here are five examples of how we all fail to do this. Now, here are five examples of doing the right thing. Now, do try to do the right thing. Amen.
So, back to what I said to my wife and my son listening in.
“Well, it wasn’t very inspiring. It also wasn’t Law and Gospel. It was just a whole bunch of low-grade law. See we need to be cut to the quick by the Law so that in no uncertain terms we see that we need to throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Then we are ready to hear the Gospel. It’s the gospel we need to hear. We need the Gospel. That is what is ‘inspiring’. So, that is what I think it important. It was not a bad sermon; it is like most of the sermons we hear. The preacher thinks we all need a tune-up or something. Preachers seem to want to tell their congregation that the members are not doing a very good job of being a Christian.”
Frankly, I’m tired of preachers who are unhappy with their congregation. I think Lutherans fall into the trap that many other traditions do. I learned about this when my family went overseas a few years ago. There was no Lutheran church to go to and we went to two evangelical churches and I heard a dozen different preachers and they all did it. Lectured us. Worship was a lecture on the Bible sandwiched in between the singing of a bunch of hymns and a few prayers. I got really frustrated. I felt I learned more about the thought processes and what was important to the various preachers than anything else.
Of course, that could just be me. So, what do you think? What is the state of preaching today? If you sit under a great preacher, God bless you. If they “inspire” you, thank God. I think we all need to learn more about preaching. I know I do.
What should preachers do besides lecture the congregation? We have a beautiful text to hear today. Let’s hear it and then I shall attempt to say briefly how evangelical preachers might conceive of their task. Here is Isaiah 43:1-7:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.
Creation and redemption. We are created for God’s glory. My life is not being a Christian drudge. I do not go to church to hear what a lousy job I am doing of being a Christian. I repent of all the times I took out my frustration at not being a quote/unquote Christian success story. I, you, all who are called by God’s name were created for God’s glory. Scripture tells me that I am precious in God’s sight, not through self-affirmations or whatever pathetic pop psychology people are peddling, rather I know this because it says it right here in Isaiah 43 verse 4. We are precious in God’s sight. Created by God and called by name.
So that is number one, inspiring things I heard today, I am created by God. Number two, I am, you are, all who are called by His name are protected. When we walk through deep waters, we will pass through because He is with us. When we walk through fire, we will not be scorched, the flames will not burn us because He is the Lord our God. He is our Savior.
Johann Gerhard wrote in his Comprehensive Explanation, 53– “Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of the first creation and in the same way [thereby] made them fruitful, Gen. 1 and 2, so also God the Lord once more ordained the water for the regeneration [rebirth], which is at the same time the ‘other’ creation [‘new creation’], and which through the power of the Spirit is made into a saving means of rebirth and renewal.”
Luther said, “I encourage that these two—the water and the Word—by no means be separated from each other...When the Word is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament called Christ's Baptism. This is the first part about the holy Sacrament's essence and dignity. In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted. We must learn what it profits, gives, and works. For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ's words quoted above, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" [Mark 16:16]. Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this—to save [1 Peter 3:21]. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he "be saved." To be saved is to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil [Colossians 1:13-14]. It means to enter into Christ's kingdom [John 3:5], and to live with Him forever.
So, to close, what I want from evangelical preachers is to hear about the Savior. I want to hear about Jesus for me while hearing about Jesus for the redemption of the world. Tell me about creation and redemption, birth and second birth. Tell me about the Holy Spirit and how God makes it possible to believe this. Tell me about Jesus. +Amen