Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Pastoral Concern -- Why I don't like my own sermons

Someone once told me that a pastor will only like about four sermons he ever writes. 

I think that doesn't mean he believes his sermons are bad.  I think it means that he can think of any number of ways his sermon could be improved or that he can think of others topics that could have been addressed but weren't.  Sometimes a sermon is poor.  They can't all be award winners.  But I think the assessment above is correct: A pastor will only like about four sermons that he ever writes.  I think I am up to one.

To illustrate why I am sometimes left feeling that a sermon did not carry its weight well enough, consider the Gospel from this past Sunday:

GOSPEL                               Luke 7:1-10
                After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.   And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them.  When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

From this Gospel, here are a sampling of thoughts that could have been addressed.
>   A centurion -- A Roman soldier, not a son of Israel or of the covenant, is counted
       as a believer and receives mercy
>   At the point of death -- We are all sinners who are dead / dying in a sinful world. 
       Only Jesus' intervention saves us.
>   "He is worthy" / "I am not worthy" -- The centurion was not swayed by his friends'
       assessment of him.  He recognized that others' fondness of him was not God's
       judgment of him.  He did not boast of his worth or his accomplishments.  He confessed
       his unworthiness and sought mercy.  The Jewish elders spoke of his merit.  The centurion
       demonstrated humility.
>   Under authority -- We are all under God's authoritative word.  We regularly challenge
       God's word and defy his commands.  We earn his wrath.  And we forfeit his blessings by
       doing so.
>   Jesus marveled at the centurion -- Amazingly, the only times we hear that Jesus marveled
       at someone are when Jesus is interacting with Gentiles.  That is the case here, too.
>   Not even in Israel -- There are no rights to the kingdom of God.  Our resume, our bloodline, 
       or our heritage will not save us.
>   They found the servant well -- Jesus demonstrates his compassion and mercy in a very real
       way.  His work is necessary for the forgiveness of sins and cleansing of hearts and souls. 
       But he also cares for our bodies.  That is seen in a Savior who becomes flesh and blood to
       redeem sinners who are flesh and blood.  Even though he will not cure every disease, he
       does promise a resurrection to everlasting glory.  Bodies will rise gloriously from the grave
       and will be eternally immune to disease, decay, and death.  This is what we yearn for, and
       Jesus will deliver it.

Certainly there are other points that can be made.  But time limits what can be said.  Hopefully, what was preached was said well enough.  And perhaps God enlightens listeners to some of these other truths as they ponder what is said by the preacher.

The other piece of advice given to me regarding this struggle to say all that can be said is this: You have 40 years in the ministry.  You get to preach on these lessons more than once.

Hopefully by then, after years of ruminating on a Scripture lesson, I will find more to be pleased about in my own preaching.