Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's It Have to Do with Me?

Even though my sermon is over and done with, I have another post about preaching within me!

I remember reading something by Pastor John MacArthur about preaching.  (I'll be relying on my memory of what I read, and that may be flawed, so please keep that in mind!)  MacArthur said that many pastors tell him that they try to make their sermons 50 percent theology, and 50 percent application (ways to apply Christianity to one's daily life).  But MacArthur stated that he does not have that sort of approach; rather, he believes that theology itself is applicable to people's everyday lives.

In a sense, I can see MacArthur's point.  In my sermon on Job this last Sunday, I presented God as someone who loved God's creation.  That was a theological assertion.  I suppose that I could have come up with specific points about how people can apply that concept to their daily lives, but (at least in this area) I didn't think it was really necessary.  People can apply this concept to their lives when they walk out of the service and regard God as one who loves God's creation (including them), and relate to this God accordingly.  The application is essentially, "Now go ye therefore with this conception of God in your mind."

But things are not always that simple, for there are a number of theological concepts----or concepts related to biblical interpretation----whose applicability is not readily apparent, and so the preacher may have to bring them down to earth and detail possible ways that people can apply them.  I'll use myself as an example.  A long time ago, I delivered a sermon about Deuteronomy 23, which bans the offspring of illegitimate sexual unions, men with their privates crushed or cut off, Ammonites, and Moabites from God's assembly.  I went into how the Book of Ruth and Isaiah 56 appear to offer a different vision, but I may have mentioned that Nehemiah 13 holds fast to the more exclusive vision of Deuteronomy 23.  My overall point, though, was that the New Testament includes all people.

This is all information that interests me, for it's an excellent test-case of the diversity that exists within the Bible.  And yet, I can picture people in the congregation thinking to themselves, "Okay, this is all interesting, but what's if have to do with me?"  My overall point in the sermon was that God now includes all people, and so we should go out and witness, but couldn't I have made that point without going into Deuteronomy 23, Ruth, Isaiah 56, and Nehemiah 13?  Perhaps, but I really wanted to talk about those texts, as they're a favorite topic of mine!  Maybe what I should have done was to probe the issue of exclusion----how there may have been justifiable reasons for God to exclude certain people from the assembly, in the same way that we all deserve exclusion from God's presence on account of our sins.  And yet, how wonderful it is when the excluded are finally included!  And perhaps they appreciate their inclusion even more after they've been excluded.  This is an evangelical, Luther-like----maybe even a Spurgeon-esque----message, and some of you may have problems with that.  (It doesn't set entirely right with me, either, to be honest!)  But my point is that I should have done a better job in bringing the biblical texts down to earth for my audience----so that they could see ways that the texts could relate to them.

Another sermon that I gave a while back was shortly before Thanksgiving.  Essentially, I gave a little history lesson about how God was with the Pilgrims, protecting them and their mission and sending them rain and Squanto the Native American, and I lamented that America has departed from her godly roots.  This was an interesting history lesson----some of it was probably true, and some of it may have been thenomist propaganda.  But I should have brought it down to earth for my congregation----showing them what lessons they themselves could take from it.  After I spoke, the pastor was reaching for some way to apply my sermon, and he told the congregation that people who immigrate to the U.S. from Caribbean countries (much of the congregation was from the Caribbean) should not just come here and enjoy the blessings of America, but they should remember their families, who are still in the Caribbean.  And the associate pastor told me that one way I could have brought my message down to earth was to say that, if we follow God and try to do God's will, God will help us by making crooked paths straight.  (He probably didn't intend that as an absolute, in a prosperity Gospel sense, but his point was most likely that God will open doors for us to serve God, if we are willing, and will help us in our service.)

I think that some preachers can preach their theology, and their theological points are easy to apply, without them having to include in their sermons specific application points.  I, however, am the sort of person who may have to have 50 percent theology and 50 percent application in my sermon, for I need to work at bringing my information down to earth so that people don't leave the service saying to themselves, "Well, that was interesting, but what's it have to do with me?"

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