Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Pretend Letter

First, a word of explanation....

I read on Facebook and the internet about pastors who are encountered by comments from parishioners about their sermons -- negative, non-constructive comments.  I can tell by the pastor's posts that they worry about these criticisms and want to respond to them in a positive way, but also in a way that leads to understanding.

I've never encountered this kind of challenge, but I wondered what I would say if I had, so I wrote this letter.  Truthfully, I can't see that sending it would be a constructive move, but it helped me to define what I believe a sermon should be.  The names are all made up, the situation is a pretend one.  This is a fictional response, but it reflects what I think a sermon process should be and my understanding of preaching.

Dear John:

Thank you for the letter you wrote to me yesterday.  I can see that my sermon wasn't what you expected when you came to worship.  I wonder if it would help if I explained my understanding of what a sermon is and should be, and maybe a little bit about my process for crafting a sermon.

I begin the process of writing a sermon not by writing but by reading.  I read the text and let it live in my mind for a few days.  I'm counting on God to distill my thoughts into the message God would like to have delivered to God's people.  I take some time to separate myself from daily distraction and spend time in prayer.  My goal is that the message delivered is not my own, but is God's.

A sermon, I believe, should forward God's purposes to create change.  What response is God hoping for in the people?  I pray that I will discover that hoped-for response, and that I can craft a sermon that moves people toward it.

A sermon should also remain faithful to the scripture.  I pray that God will illuminate God's word for me and that I will see clearly what the message is, and that I can shine light on it for all of us.

The resulting sermon is not always comforting and in fact can very often be challenging.  It is almost always about change.  Its purpose is to illuminate where we are standing, and how far we have to go in order to be closer to God's image for us.  The purpose of Christianity is change -- transformation -- from sinner to saved.  From who we are to who God wants us to be.  The journey can be uncomfortable, as can be the sermon that points to that journey.

If it helps, I didn't find the sermon yesterday to be very comforting, either.  God's message challenges my life and my decisions as much as anyone else's.  My hope is in God, and in God's love for all of us.  I'm grateful God is trying to move all of us closer to who we were created to be.

Thank you for your thoughts. I'm grateful you sent them to me, and I'm grateful that we are on this challenging journey to Christ-like holiness together.

Blessings and grace,



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