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Why does it seem like a good sermon isn't enough to cause hearts to be changed?
If the Holy Spirit is really at work and the Gospel is preached with clarity and conviction, how come as soon as we hear the Good News we don't we embrace it and change course immediately?
The answer, simply put, is that the price of the Gospel is often higher than we're willing to pay.
It's higher than any of us are willing to pay. Thank God Jesus forgives and loves us just the same!
The Gospel asks us over and over again to lose our selves in order to gain our selves.
While we know in theory it must be a worthwhile exchange, few will make the change without a serious accounting of what's at stake. Our sermons, then, must respect and acknowledge both what the Gospel is offering AND what the Gospel is asking us to lose if we want people to truly hear and consider our message.
Consider these four costs preachers need to "price" or acknowledge for their listeners:
We live with competing loyalties, and sometimes the Gospel asks us to choose.
Give everything we have to the poor? "Not if we want send our kids to college."
Respect the dignity of every human being? "Not if it means we have to denounce hateful comments by our neighbors..and still live with these people afterwards."
Honor the Sabbath? "Not if our kids are in elite, traveling soccer."
Competing loyalties are a daily reality. If the sermons asks that Jesus "wins," then we need to respect and name just as seriously what we lose.
The Devil We Know
When we repeat something one time a pattern is already getting entrenched, like how decisions are made and by whom, and what's allowed to be talked about and what's off-limits.
No matter how dysfunctional they are, when patterns are established they're hard to change. The more we persist in trying to change them the more our tenacity can cost us our relationships and health.
After all, if a system worked to get some where they are they have little incentive to change, no matter how "Good" the "Good News" sounds.
For many of us if not most, time is the most precious commodity we have, more precious than money.
We all have to choose what to do with the minutes we have. How to allocate the precious minutes of the day for the nonessentials is a tough decision.
Prayer and bible reading? After taking care of the daily essentials, are these essential to daily living? Are they essential when compared to other competing goods like exercise, reading to the kids, or cooking for an elderly neighbor?
What price in minutes does the Gospel ask us to pay?
People are overwhelmed.
The political climate is uncertain and unprecedented.
Fear is constantly stoked on television.
Real change is happening in multiple realms that affect real people, including climate change, health care, immigration, and jobs.
To accept that the Gospel opens us to care for others (even "others" we've never met) alongside our own can feel threatening, not life-giving.
The sermon message may be asking people to make decisions to promote the Gospel that they don't have the wherewithal to make right now.
What price do they pay to make a decision anyway? What price do they pay if they don't?
These are just four examples of the price we're asked to pay to follow Christ. Yes, the price is high; Jesus never suggested otherwise.
So that the price isn't too much to bear, let the following principles guide your sermons. Offer a sermon message of Good News that can be embraced even with the price.
Count the cost, Literally and figuratively.
As you prep, consider not only yourself but four others from your congregation with different backgrounds who are in various stages of life. Imagine (or ask) what price they would pay if they were to follow Christ before and against all others based on the lessons. What cost would you have to pay to follow your own message?
Let people know you know what's being asked of them. Acknowledge the pain, the dilemmas, the tough choices.
Let them know you know because you, too, have to make the same choices every day.
People have various tolerances for the pain of loss and grief, no matter how minor it may seem to us. Indeed, the pain and price of the Gospel may be higher than they feel able to pay. Trust that they're doing the best they can.
Most importantly, trust God to work it out with them.
Have compassion For thyself
We're also making these decisions, right? Trust yourself that you're doing the best you can with the Spirit's guidance. Talk to yourself like you do to your best friend: tell yourself that what you're doing is really hard.
And worth it.
Just because listeners haven't "gotten it" yet doesn't mean we quit preaching the Gospel!
No one "outpaces the rate of grace," as Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B., says, not even us. We all embrace the Gospel at the rate we're able. Thank God, once again, that the grace of Jesus Christ fills in the gap!
Finally, for Your Own Sake, Grow with Colleagues
Finding colleagues with whom we can share challenges and count the cost in our lives will help us remain courageous and authentic in our own preaching.
Not sure who to approach? Don't have someone readily available?
BsP is offering two opportunities to grow with colleagues where you can enjoy the insight and support of other preachers facing similar challenges.
- Next Monday, March 27, at 3:00 CST, join a free, one-hour webinar: "Six Tips to Preach in a Divided Culture." You'll learn to discern the climate of your congregation and gain approaches to preach with empathy, courage, and creativity. Space is limited, so don't wait! Register for this timely class where you'll discover practical strategies to break through the tension of our contentious climate.
- Sermon Boot Camps are almost full. Only four spaces are left for Holy Week, and two for Easter! Don't miss your chance!
Be Good News to Preach Good News,
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