When The Sermon Turned Ugly
Some time ago, I watched the video of a sermon preached by a pastor I happen to know. He'd invited a group of pastors to view it, and offer critique, so I took him up on his offer. At about the two minute mark, the sermon turned kind of ugly, and then it went down hill from there.
He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "If you want one of those churches where all they do is preach about grace, then you probably need to go there. But at this church we are going to call out sin as sin." I listened to this pastor for a while longer, but his sermon was just more of the same kinds of contrasts.
It brought back some bad memories.
I remember when I was a kid, for the most part, we attended pretty small fire and brimstone churches where the membership didn't really change a whole lot. But every week, without fail the preachers of these churches would get up and deliver a heaping helping of guilt and shame, along with a healthy dose of fear.
To the same people. Every week.
I left the Church for many years when I became an adult, determined never to return. When my wife and I got married, she changed my tune, however. We landed in a Presbyterian church not far from where I live now. The pastor preached on grace and the love of God. At least that's what I heard for what seemed like the very first time. I cried like a baby that day, and every week I attended afterward for a couple of months.
It was good news, you see.
I decided long ago that God's great grace and love was most clearly exhibited through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that this message of God's great grace and love for broken and wounded people was going to be at the center of everything I preached.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing in his second letter to the Corinthians. He said, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Essentially, he was saying (in the words of that old praise song) "it comes down to a man, dying on a cross, saving the world."
Grace. Mercy. Love. Period.
W. Phillip Keller once wrote, "Christ calls us to be merciful. He calls us to be forgiving and compassionate. This does not mean we wink and wrong and sweep sin under the carpet. Rather it demands that we care enough to bring others to the God of all mercy."
May you live into the very grace and mercy that you have been shown by God through Jesus, by showing it to others. May you lift up God's grace with enthusiasm and passion. May you show those who might be trapped in their past, burdened with sin and guilt and covered in shame that there is, in the words of Paul, "now no condemnation to those who embrace a life of following Jesus."
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.