They seem to be the centerpiece of the worship service at church, no matter how long they are or what they’re called: sermons, teachings, messages, homilies.
I’m not sure they should be, but they kind of are by default for almost a couple thousand years now.
I would vote for the eucharist, the Lord’s supper, to take that honor and let Him host and be the center of worship, honor and praise.
But, hey, nobody asked me.
So we surround the sermon with all our other acts of worship (singing, prayers, reading of scripture, etc.), and — like I said — it becomes the centerpiece of the table we surround by default.
And what do we hear?
I attended church from before the time I could think or speak until just a couple of years ago. I think I can fairly say I’ve heard about every kind of sermon imaginable, from the very best to the very worst.
I learned a lot, I’m sure; and some of what I learned, I had to later unlearn — because what I heard was not valid, or helpful, or sometimes just wasn’t true. Occasionally it didn’t even conform to what scripture said, and even rarely contradicted and defied it.
But looking back, I think the very best sermons I heard gave me insight into the life, teachings, example and nature of Jesus of Nazareth.
They conveyed His humanity and divinity, His winsome appeal, His unflagging love for all, and His refusal to judge people while being unflinchingly judgmental about how to speak, act and relate to others in a world that God made and God cares about and God watches over all the time.
Sermons like that made me crave that nature and yearn for that living grace; they challenged me to imitate it in what I do and say with the goal of making it my nature.
I genuinely don’t know how you can preach a gospel sermon without talking about Jesus; He is the very best of all the good news in scripture. I tried preaching for several years, but it is not my gift. When I did preach, I genuinely tried to draw my listeners to the grace of Christ.
To the cross, yes, sometimes; even to the empty tomb. But, you see, that’s what the Lord’s table is for; that’s largely His story to tell in His inimitable way — by living it to death and then living it forever.
I can’t do better than that.
And you see, if that were all there is to His story, we would miss out on the part that makes it whole and full and complete: the incredible life of love and compassion that He lived. That, as much as anything else, is what proves He was/is/will always be the Son of God.
God could have raised anyone from the dead — it’s not like He’d never done it before! But who else but His very own Son could have lived such an exemplary life, seen and communicated the loving grace of heaven so clearly, had the unalterable faith to let mankind do its worst and still speak words of forgiveness?
Sermons come and go. A million every Sunday, maybe, all around the world.
But they are only heard by the people who listen to them; and if those people don’t leave that church inspired to live what they’ve heard, then only words have been spoken. Not The Word, the living Logos, the meaning of what God spoke into existence, the why of being, the purpose of living, the joy of loving, the embodiment of grace.
Well, I’ve rattled on here long enough. If I could live like that, I could still try preaching. But I know there is no credibility in what you say if you don’t practice what you preach.
So I’ve chosen to leave that to others of better qualifications, and just do my best to live up to some poor semblance of the One that I most admire.
They say that’s a sermon too.