Of all the things I hear after I have been a visiting preacher, what I dislike the most is, “Nice sermon Father/Pastor/Preacher/Reverend.”
It is not that I do not enjoy feedback, especially if I believe I have done well. It is because this comment so often masks both a complete disregard for the content of the sermon and the lack of any intention to do something in light of the call to apply it.
Recently I returned to a congregation as a visiting preacher and reminded them of a specific challenge that I had placed before them six weeks before. It was to heed the clear and unambiguous teaching of our Lord: that the sign (to him) that someone is “truly” his disciple, is that they “abide in [his] word.” The challenge was to begin doing so everyday, at a set time and place. Again, for the New Year, I repeated the challenge.
After the service, one of the dearest of the parishioners actually said to me: “Everyday when I sit at my table for breakfast, I remember what you said when you were here last year.” Six weeks of remembering, without doing! I tried to—lovingly—encourage her to do better than that.
That second Sunday, the opening verses of the apostle’s Letter to the Romans had been read. There, he describes the grace and mercy that has come to him though Christ Jesus as the source and power of God for his ministry to accomplish its purpose: “the obedience of faith.” Not thinking about faith, but obedience.
God knows that the struggle to be faithful in any Christian’s life, mine included, is never an easy one. I have learned to mistrust anyone who seems to suggest otherwise. The struggle is real and necessary, and anyone not engaged in it is kidding themselves about their salvation. Five minutes with any of the four gospels brings every true believer face to face with the challenge of our Lord’s teaching. What does it mean when we make note of it, and then go on as before? Clearly, that is not “the obedience of faith.”
Our believing forebears knew what it meant if someone was not struggling to be obedient to Jesus. It meant a thorn entangled heart (at best) or an unconverted heart (at worst). No amount of church behavior, or light-hearted religious language would confuse them. “If you have heard the gospel,” they would say, “if you have read it, marked it, learned it, and inwardly digested it, it is changing you. Demonstrably changing you.”
Nice sermon indeed.
What about us who are reading this blog? Are we hearing “nice sermons” regularly? Are we giving them? Are any of them producing the “obedience of faith?” In us or anyone else?
— Jon Shuler