Make church and worship a little challenging for yourself.

Yea, “Leadership Magazine” is out (Summer 2014 p 92) and Skye Jethani has written an editorial to challenge our idea of what a sermon should be like. I will take his column a little further. Lutheran worship has always espoused a sermon that is “Law and Gospel”, remind people why they are in worship. We are sinners, we need to be reminded that we violate God’s Law on a regular basis, so we are reminded of what His Law is. But God doesn’t stop there, because we also have the Gospel, the Good News, that Jesus came to be the sacrifice, the payment, the propitiation for our sin. The Law and our regular violation of the Law separates us from God. God is holy, just, righteous. If there is a violation of His Law then His justice requires that there be payment for that violation. Jesus made that payment for us on the cross, through His death and sacrifice. Jesus restored our relationship with God the Father through that sacrifice, when God sees us, He sees His Son. Jesus is perfect, sinless, God the Son and the only One who could make a sacrifice sufficient to pay for the sins of the world. When the Father sees you or me who are in Jesus, He sees His Son and we are restored in the relationship with the Father.
But in this day and age, too often, pastors downplay our sin and give us a more “rose-colored” view of the world and ourselves. We continue to sin, but that gets soft pedaled. Skye writes “…we only grow when we are uncomfortable, and too much comfort can be downright dangerous.” For me it’s dangerous in a couple of ways, it makes us complacent towards the content of the sermon and to the seriousness of the sin that separates us from God the Father and leaves many condemned because we don’t take our Christian discipleship seriously enough for those who don’t know Jesus.
Skye writes: “…With the best intentions, we have tried to make worship a comfortable place for both believers and seekers to learn about God.” And I might add, to learn about our relationship with Him and how we separate ourselves from Him.
Skye points out that our brain functions on two levels. One is when we kind of coast, take it in, but don’t think about it too critically. Our other level is when we are “…required to rethink assumptions, challenge ideas, and construct new behaviors and beliefs. System two must be active to learn. Research shows that the brain shifts from system one to system two when forced to work; when challenged and uncomfortable.” So he asks the question, “…should we be seeking engagement that requires more work on the part of our listeners rather than less?” Shouldn’t my sermons be more challenging, more critical, uplifting, but in terms of remembering what we have to be thankful for and why. We should be able to take what we get from a sermon, examine our own life, our family’s and to be able to articulate that to a person who does not know Christ as Lord of their life? In order to do that I have to push you in my sermons and not make them easy or comfortable.
Skye writes about how: “…Jesus was a brilliant communicator, … it is obvious that the comfort of his audience was not a significant consideration. In fact, Jesus taught in a manner that challenged (sometimes baffled) his listeners. He expected them to work in order to understand his teaching. He asked them questions wrapped his teaching in opaque parables, and often taught in distracting settings.”
Speaking for myself, I want people to be even a little baffled when they leave worship. I would love it if they came up to me and said “hey pastor, what did that mean when you said … and how does that apply to me?”
There’s an old pastoral saying, that we are “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When you sit in those pews in front of me, I want you to feel challenged, convicted, not beat up on, but in a way that makes you want to fight to that next level. When you really confront what the Law is, what Jesus did for you and how that applies to you and those around you, it should raise a host of questions. When you leave on Sunday morning I will feel I have achieved my goal as a “seel sorger” a soul healer if you leave feeling a little challenged. Not because I’m so smart or so good, believe me, that sermon should reach both of us and remind us that only by God’s grace, by the life, death and resurrection are we saved in Christ. And when we remember that, we should also feel that we’ve been pushed and prodded to grow in the faith.

2 thoughts on “Make church and worship a little challenging for yourself.

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