Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Preaching Challenges, Part Deux

To follow up on my post of yesterday, about the struggles that I seem to have every year to preach on Good Shepherd Sunday . . . it seems like this should be an easy Sunday to preach on, but for me it's not. I think this is so because I am conscious of how easy it is to preach an unchristian message this day. What do I mean by that? A sermon where the forgiveness of sins is not central. The picture of the Good Shepherd is one of feeding and care and rest - God is taking care of you, providing for you, and protecting you. That's all true, of course, but is it the Gospel? Is that not a sermon you could also hear in many other religions that are not Christian? Indeed, it is. So there must be more to the sermon than that. There must be the theology of the cross.

So the challenge I face each year is to take a true, but incomplete, picture of the Good Shepherd and expand it in the minds of my people, so that they think of the true care we receive from Christ in His death and resurrection and in the forgiveness of their sins. And I think that is where I have been a bit clumsy or challenged. This year I took the approach that we have a Good Shepherd, but He may not always seem good, because we don't always know what good is. Like when parents force their children to eat their vegetables - the child thinks that's horrible, but the parents know this is good. It is at those times when we think our Shepherd isn't being good that we are tempted to wander and look for greener pastures (Law). But even then, our Good Shepherd is good, leaving the 99 to go after the one and bring us back in forgiveness (Gospel).

So far, so good, I think. But notice - the cross still isn't there. Oh, yes, it's implicit in the forgiveness of sins, but it needs to be explicit. I could just add it - forgiveness earned and won for us on the cross, but that seems forced and artificial. Better, I think, to try here to use the analogy given in the Gospel of the satanic wolf and that Jesus stood between us and the wolf to save us from him; to save us from death. That works, but now notice that the cross still isn't linked to the atonement, but to rescuing us from death and satan. Again, true enough, and there's an implicit connection there . . . but can you see how I am having trouble tying the whole bundle together?

Anyway, I wonder if other pastors have similar problems on this or other weeks? The challenge isn't bad - it forces me to think and study and pray to proclaim the Word better, and that's all good. And as I said yesterday, it is a great comfort to know that the Spirit works through my meager and often clumsy proclamation. That's not an excuse for bad sermons! But it is a comfort. The harvest is His, and He will work. He promised.

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