As one component of my daily disciplines, I read and listen to sermons. The incredible bounty of the internet allows me access to Keller, Piper, Dever, Begg, and others. In an effort to resist the “cult of celebrity” (so-and-so may say it well, but it ain’t really said until Driscoll says it!) I’ve been filling my iPod with sermons from men who are earnest but not known nearly so well. I’ve been at it for a few weeks now, and I’m beginning to feel quite ill.
These men are not goofballs, they’re not fiddling around and they’re not pandering to their audience. They are earnestly desiring to be Biblical and textual. But I’m overdosing on the 2nd “greatest commandment” (1. love God, 2. love your neighbor).
Every text becomes exhortative (what’s the adjective I’m looking for, here?) — bloated with imperatives. It’s all about living out the Kingdom, everywhere. Three from this week’s listening:
Angels visit the shepherds and sing the birth of Jesus? God wants us in kingdom ministry to the poor, those “outside”.
Jesus claim to be prophecy’s fulfillment? We need to claim his kingdom, giving ourselves to the poor.
Moses sent with the message, “Let my people go”? So we cry freedom for the oppressed.
There’s much that’s wrong, here, and some that’s right. We could discuss the need of a Christ-centered hermeneutic, the nature of the kingdom, the neglect of true religion. But in this post I would like to raise just one simple protest: why do so many feel that love for God will be powerless?
The texts used as examples point to Jesus the Christ, Saviour and Redeemer. Much could be made of him in preaching those texts. We preach to people, ourselves included, who still do not recognize the fullness of his glory. Like his fellow Nazarenes, our perception of him is far too small. We erect idols in his place, and pour out our worship to them, thinking they will save us, fill us, satisfy us. We sin because we have bent our desires away from him; and bent desires, twisted affections, leave us bent and twisted and broken. We need Christ unveiled before our eyes, our hearts, in all his beauty and power and wonder. We need our hearts called up, yearning towards him like a sunflower toward the sun; aligning and straightening our affections — will this not have potent effect in our lives?
I think preachers feel they need to hammer out the imperatives because they have forgotten the power of new affection — of love for God. It’s not that they no longer love God. But the radiance of Jesus’s beauty has become occluded by the details of programs and the baubles that bob in the wake of consumerism, and the text has been obscured by hundreds of motivational messages. The congregation begins to wander, no longer stunned and skewered by the piercing brilliance from the cross — and the springboard for love for our neighbor is weakened. So the preacher tries harder, and hammers it more…and it grows weaker still. Because our love is response and fruit of the love of God.
I know there is preaching that fails to make application. I know there is preaching that never gets to the “So what” questions. I know there is preaching that emphasizes individual salvation and forensic righteousness and never touches on kingdom living today. I know “love your neighbor” must be preached as true religion.
I just wonder if we have forgotten what power will motivate this love? I wonder if we’re afraid the cross and the empty tomb are really not the power of God at the heart of everything we are?
Are pastors ever really in danger of overdosing their congregations on the loveliness of God in Christ? I truly wonder…