Today's Word for Pastors...
Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. - Matthew 5:24
Today's Preaching Insight...
Preaching God's Story, Not Ours
In the Winter 2007 issue of Fuller Seminary's Theology News & Notes, New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson asks: "What would it mean to let the gospel be your guide in preaching? In order to reflect on that counsel, we must come back to the question, what is the gospel? First and foremost, the gospel is God's action, God's story, God's saving initiative toward the world which he has created. It bears repeating: the gospel is God's story.
To preach the gospel, then, means sentences in which God is the subject of active verbs. Beginning with accounts in Genesis and moving through the book of Revelation, it's easy to make quite a list of all that God does: God speaks, creates, judges, calls, sends, saves, delivers, feeds, clothes, promises, loves, shows mercy and kindness, does justice, and so on. To preach the gospel is to proclaim the accounts of the Scriptures in light of the fact that their central character is God, and that the gospel is from God and about the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
I am reminded of a sermon I heard on John 11, the raising of Lazarus. The story is the climactic "sign" in the Gospel of John testifying to Jesus' identity as the resurrection and the life. Jesus' sign of raising the dead bears witness to the glory of God, that is, to the power of God to give life to the dead through Jesus. The fledgling preacher told the story, leading up to the dramatic moment when Jesus calls out, "Lazarus, come forth!" This story is one that embodies the gospel in all its simplicity—the power of Jesus, the one sent by God, and his word to give life. But, apparently feeling it inadequate, the preacher added, "And now Lazarus had to make a decision." It is, of course, a ludicrous picture: a dead man deciding whether or not to obey the word of Jesus! But the turn of this sermon illustrates something pernicious in much modern preaching: it is so easy to make the most powerful of Gospel stories center on human action and not on God, to think that somehow our actions, our decisions, are the heart and center of the gospel story. To make that move is to sell out the gospel."
(Click here to read the full article.)
During an impassioned sermon on death and facing judgment, the visiting evangelist said forcefully, "every member of this church is going to die and face judgment." Early on in the sermon he noticed a gentleman smiling on the front row.
The minister kept pushing his theme, "Every member of this church is going to die." The guy smiled even more while everyone else in the congregation had a very somber look. In an effort to get through to the guy, the preacher repeated it several more times forcefully, "EACH MEMBER OF THIS CHURCH IS GOING TO DIE."
Each time the phrase was repeated, the man smiled more. This really got the preacher wound up and he preached even harder. The man still smiled. The preacher finally walked down off the platform to stand just in front of the smiling man and shouted, "I SAID EACH MEMBER OF THIS CHURCH IS GOING TO DIE."
At the end of the service the man was smiling from ear to ear. While everyone else was looking pretty grim from the prospect of entering eternity, the man seemed quite happy. After the service the preacher jumped down off the platform and worked through the crowd to find the man. Pulling him aside, the preacher said, "I don't get it. Every time I said, 'Every member of this church is going to die,' you were laughing. I want to know why you did that?"
The man looked the preacher square in the eye and said confidently, "I'm not a member of this church." (from James Merritt)