The mystery of a sermon (1)

The mystery of a sermon (1)

In Reformed worship the exposition of God’s Word has a central place.  Rightly so!  Praise is important – it’s something the Lord repeatedly calls us to do.  Public prayers are important when God’s people gather for worship.  Our giving for the work of church and kingdom should continue to be part of public worship.  So should the administration of the sacraments.  It’s not difficult to find Biblical support for all those things that we do in our gatherings for worship.  But to worship God by listening to His Word is arguably the most important of them all.

Over these summer months I’ve listened to some folk as they’ve responded and reacted to some of their worship experiences over the summer holidays.  One man remarked that he had enjoyed the singing at a worship service he had attended while on holidays but that the sermon had been little more than a motivational talk – devoid of Biblical content.  Last night a lady remarked that in a worship service she had attended there was much that she had appreciated but she lamented that the sermon that Sunday was really just a biographical sketch – an extended testimony – without any reference to Scripture.

As this year begins I want to devote a couple of bulletin blogs to “the sermon”.

Some people argue that the sermon has had its day.  Today – because of living in a highly visual age – we no longer have the attention span needed to listen to a sermon.  It should be replaced, so some would argue, by drama and video clips.  I have some sympathy for that argument.  How does one engage a generation that has been brought up on a diet of television, videos and Internet?  That’s a tough call.

Let me make two comments in response.

First of all, if a sermon is just a motivational talk or an extended personal testimony then we not only could critique the validity of sermons today but we must.  If, as a Pastor, I just give a motivational talk, why should people listen to me?  There are professional motivational speakers who can it much better.  If I just share some things from my own life then I not only could question the legitimacy of that, I must.  My life is not that exciting that talking about it would hold anyone’s attention.

On the other hand if the sermon is an explanation and application of God’s Word then people should and must sit up and take notice.  If we are faithful to Scripture in our sermons then this is not just the Pastor speaking but this is God addressing the congregation through the medium of a sermon.

Secondly, that in no way absolves us who preach from doing the hard yards of communicating God’s message in the most effective way possible.  If I present my explanation and application of God’s Word as I would a lecture then I am most likely not going to hold the attention of today’s video generation.  I need to creatively paint word-pictures for them and use a variety of rhetorical devices to communicate God’s message in the very best way that I can.

When I do that then I discover that God amazingly uses my weak efforts to speak into the lives of people through the “foolishness” of a church sermon.  It is for that very reason that we speak of the preaching of God’s Word as a “means of grace”.  In other words, a channel through which the Lord chooses to bring blessing into people’s lives.  I want to elaborate on that a little further next time.

Meanwhile we should think of listening to a sermon as “sitting under the ministry of God’s Word”.  If we do that then a sermon is to the soul what dinner is to the body.  Worshipping God by listening to an explanation and application of God’s Word is like enjoying a nourishing meal.  But then, just as not eating physically leads to anorexia, so too absenting ourselves from the preaching of the gospel will result in spiritual malnourishment.