Saturday, April 30, 2011

The spiritual side of the Sunday sermon.

When I was young in the faith. I had the pleasure of being mentored by an evangelist, named Algernon tenyson. Yes, he was a brother. He was my black old brother and i was his white chocolate. He taught me how to give the word with love in it and oil on it. This was reinforced by a charismatic methodist pastor who once told me to preach to myself so that I learn how to let the anointing take over. This is more than passionately, or naturally preaching but both will be present. It is more than organized sermons, intellectually understandable sermons but both should be there.

Have you ever read "James S. Stewart" book on preaching 'Heralds of God' (1946). I've not finished it yet the first chapter reminded me of the advice given me by both Algernon and my Methodist preacher friend:

Your task is not to send people away from church saying, 'That was a lovely sermon' or 'What an eloquent appeal!' The one question is 'Did they, or did they not, meet God today?' There will always be some who have no desire for that, some who rather than being confronted with the living Christ would actually prefer what G.K. Chesterton described as 'one solid and polished cateract of platitudes flowing for ever and ever.' But when Peter finished his first great sermon in Jerusalem, reported in the Book of Acts, I do not read that 'when they heard him they were intruiged by his eloquence' or 'politely interested in his literary allusions' or 'critical of his logic and his accent' or 'bored and impassive and contemptuous'; what I do read is 'when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart' (p31)

We might ask, how would we know if we met God in preaching? Stewart points to the response at Pentecost and we might also look to Jesus in John 10 who tells us his sheep recognise his voice. If we meet God, hear his voice, we know if it's happened. And when it does it'll be something more than just hearing words spoken from a pulpit, though it may not be less than that.

Stewart also tells of Robert Wodrow hearing preaching saying: 'that man showed me the majesty of God... the loveliness of Christ... and showed me my whole heart' (p72-73). Sounds like preaching to me. Something to aspire to, by the grace of God and the working of the Spirit.

So i ask, what happens when Preaching happens? In the excellent lecture, Preaching as Mystical Event by Robert Rayburn, is in my mind the definitive answer to that question. He explains the reformation understanding that it is through faithful preaching (not "quiet time") that we most often and most powerfully hear the voice of God. Rayburn argues that preaching is an event in which we meet God - something mysterious, a revelation of God himself to us. Rayburn is conservative and reformed so I am encouraging some weird leave your bible at home, preaching.

Rayburn begins with:

"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers."
(1 Thess 2:13 ESV)

Rayburn sites that the hearing of preaching is a mystical event. In that it transcends what one hears in a lecture or seminary exposition of a text even though style and content may be similar. In 1 Thess we read Paul's description of the thessilonians approach to his preaching. They received his preaching like it was from God. A little clarity need to be made about what it means to accepting as the word of man. Accepting as the word of man is not meant in a strictly negative way. You can except something as the word of man and still honor and respect it. The word is received without authority. People do this all the time. Do you have a BBQ every sunday lunch? Many Christians do. Not BBQ pork, but BBQ pastor, more preciously BBQ sermon. the way home because it was only a lecture about God they pick it apart only digesting those things that appeal to you? Yes, it is a pull pork BBQ. The thessilonians encountered God is the preaching and received it as the authoritative Word.

Along with countless historical and ecclesiastical references Rayburn also cites the book of Romans:

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"
(Romans 10:14 ESV)

And notes, as with the ESV footnote, that the "of" isn't there. Which is to say, in preaching we don't just hear of God, but we hear God. Paul says if you want to hear God then you need a preacher. Preaching in this manor is the word of God. He nor i are proposing a Barth's theology of the Word. This is classic reformed theology. Here is how the second helvetic confession puts it:

"THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good."

God touching and speaking to a believer through the preaching. It is a result of what my granddad called the unction, the anointing of the holy spirit in operation. In Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds writes on this operation:

“This divine unction is the one distinguishing feature that separates true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting truth. It backs and interpenetrates the revealed truth with all the force of God. It illumines the Word and broadens and enrichens the intellect and empowers it to grasp and apprehend the Word. It qualifies the preacher’s heart, and brings it to that condition of tenderness, of purity, of force and light that are necessary to secure the highest results. This unction gives to the preacher liberty and enlargement of thought and soul—a freedom, fullness, and directness of utterance that can be secured by no other process.”

There are to sides to this mystical aspect they are the pew and the pulpit. As my dad taught me, The pulpit need to be prayed up, studied up, and filled up. So you can spend the the next thirty to forty-five mins, being broken and spilled out. Something powerful happens when a man lights himself on fire, often he decreases often to ash and all that's left is the sound of believes awed by the light of God and burned by it's heat.

The pew needs to come with expectation they will hear from God. No lectures today. Today, the authority of heaven, the word of God will reveal God, the living God. If the people's heart cry was "Preacher, We would here God!" then even the words of the most cantankerous self-willed preacher can shine with the dew of heaven.

Now, do you want to hear from God? How many time have you felt like, the preacher was speaking right to you. After a sermon you felt like you had the strength to obey, the energy to endure, the clarity to trust and a heart renewed to worship, then you have touched on it. The hem of Jesus' garment has brushed your heart, power left him, and the word was spoken to you. As you pass the church doors into the wide open world your mind is calmed and centered on the simple fact that you met God.

The pew, needs to learn to open yourself to hear him in the sermon. God is the authority. God's word changes us, transforms us in deep penetrating ways that are mysterious and transcendent, as the psalmist explained it is like deep calling to deep. God in God's word is reveled and we experience it mystically, spiritually, authoritatively. Now this is just one aspect of a sermon so let's have some balance but if such a thing has not happened to you in a while you may need to ask are you open. Could you be conditioned by so many lectures, anesthetized by power point that you come to church to hear about God and not from him.

Do you desire to hear from God? Certainly read the Bible, listen to others, pursue prophecy(hearing God for others) but we're playing games if we do all of that and don't take a really high view of preaching. Do I come to the church gathering expecting that kind of encounter with God? And when it's my turn to preach do I prepare and pray and preach with the expectation that God will speak, that the preaching of the word of God will be the word of God to his people?

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