On the Isaiah 50:4 Blues Facebook page, I’ve invited you gracious readers and hearers to follow along and walk with me behind the scenes of a sermon throughout this week. Not that I have hundreds of people following the page. Hardly so. But here’s three reasons why I’ve offered to do this goofy thing.
First, the Sunday sermon is the most Bible study the majority of American congregants get during the week, at least in my experience. Some individuals and families have daily devotions, making use of Portals of Prayer or other tools (my personal favorite is the PrayNow app on my phone, with lengthier readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer to ponder). But when I count the total number of Sunday School students and teachers combined with those members in Bible Classes on Sunday morning, I’m guessing we have at best 1/3 of the folks I see in Sunday worship doing something actively together to learn and live in God’s Word outside the Divine Service.
It’s actually a great percentage, though I’d love to see that improve. Regardless, it’s been given to me not only to preach God’s Word, but to teach all God’s people here at Immanuel–and not only a third of them. Of course, the task is much easier and more convenient for me when we can gather in class at the same place and time on Sunday morning. There’s fellowship and interactivity with the text and one another. We find opportunities to go off on tangents, apply God’s Word to more particular circumstances in life and society. But due to a variety of factors, after twenty-some years as a teacher and observer, I’ve come to realize that maybe a formal Bible Class isn’t for everyone. Perhaps this effort will reach out to a different group, those who aren’t really ‘joiners’ as such, or otherwise unable to participate in class due to distance, health or work–but would still like to know more about the Bible text.
Secondly, because I rarely look at my manuscript as I preach, sometimes folks get the notion that I’m just talking off the top of my shiny bald head. Rarely have I preached without first doing my homework and placing my outline and notes close at hand. Generally, I plan the longer-term direction of the sermons and worship service about six weeks in advance. Early each week I start digging into these particular passages, translating, cross-referencing and meditating on them in prayer.
I ‘geek out’ on such study and run across cool spiritual stuff, far more than ever makes it into the sermon. I try to include what I hope are the best, most necessary and helpful parts in what the people hear in the Divine Service. Some of my homework comes out in Bible class as we look deeper at the context and background of the passages that day. Sometimes the Old Testament history and roots are in view. Sometimes we consider where a particular passage played a crucial role in the life of the Church’s history. Now and then, we look at where a passage has been grossly misunderstood and misused in ancient or contemporary times. Always, though, we’re looking for how it uniquely sets Jesus before us in a way other passages might not.
But much as the cook is nothing without the guests to whom the meal is served, the Sunday sermon isn’t primarily for the preacher or about the preacher at all. It’s about serving Jesus for you, the hearers. On account of that, what you see, hear, think and experience in relation to the passage matters very much, too. Folks sometimes compliment a sermon on the way out, or later in the week–and I appreciate the encouragement. Rarely, however, does a person do so in light of what’s really going on in their lives right then–sharing what in particular they learned or needed to hear, what reached them and helped them at the time.
So long as the Holy Spirit knows what you needed to hear and you know it, I’m OK with all that. I don’t need to know. Yet the teaching of the Word allows greater insight into what the learners actually think and know already, what questions persist–or links they haven’t made in putting the pieces together in place. Fellow learners think of things I didn’t. They make connections with other passages, life circumstances or experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise consider. The interaction of questions and answers (whether in a formal class setting or informal) and active exchange of ideas builds us both up. It makes me a better teacher and preacher, able to serve what not only satisfies taste–but nutritional need.
Finally, the invitation to walk with me from text to Sunday sermon means to put into practice a strong theme of my preaching and Biblical teaching: that you and I are spiritually connected in Christ to one another. That connection includes compassion, building one another up, and growing in our like-minded understanding of God’s Word. (Romans 15:4-6, Philippians 2:2, 1 Peter 3:8)
We confess that together we hold this “one, holy, Christian and apostolic faith.” (Nicene Creed) Together, we strive to hold fast to Christ, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3)
So we’re off on a virtual hike, should you care to join me, through the Gospel reading for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity. Join us with your thoughts or questions on the Isaiah 50:4 Blues Facebook page, or certainly feel free to comment on the following passage below. Thanks for listening. Here’s Luke 19:41-48 (ESV)
41 And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.