Monday, June 28, 2021

Food For Thought: Preaching Christ as Food for Hungry Souls

The other day I came across this quote from Charles Jefferson who wisely observed,

“When the minister goes into the pulpit he is the shepherd in the act of feeding, and if every minister had borne this in mind many a sermon would have been other than it has been. The curse of the pulpit is the superstition that a sermon is a work of art and not a piece of bread or meat… Sermons, rightly understood, are primarily forms of food. They are articles of diet. They are meals served by the minister for the sustenance of spiritual life.”

In light of the above I thought I'd repost this entry from July 2011:

Following up on my two posts (here and here) concerning feeding the sheep through word and sacrament, I want to present a couple of analogies to hopefully amplify what I think is lacking in much of the preaching in churches today.

As a thumbnail sketch: most pastors preach from the Bible.  There is usually a text upon which the sermon is based.  The passage is often presented in terms of its historical, doctrinal, and character settings.  As one listens, he may hear that God is loving, gives grace, and that there is much to be thankful for as a believer.  The listener is encouraged to trust in God's faithfulness as lessons are drawn from the verses.  The believer is admonished to go forth with renewed obedience trusting in Jesus and the ever-present grace and help of the Holy Spirit.  In the same way God was faithful to [list any number of Biblical characters], he is faithful to you, the present day believer.  As the song says, "trust and obey - there's no other way..."  What is missing?
Analogy #1: Imagine you are plagued with a failing heart, one riddled with disease.  You schedule an appointment with a skilled surgeon.  You go to the hospital.  You're taken into the operating room and the doctor enters.  From his scholarly medical books he begins laying out before you the procedures that have been developed over many years that have been shown to be successful in curing heart disease.  He explains in detail the countless individuals who have benefited from these amazing techniques.  Step by step and precept upon precept the medical procedure is detailed.  He concludes by explaining how one can be healed and live a normal life as a result of this amazing wonder of medicine.  He smiles, shakes your hand, gives you a bill  having finished what he came to do.
Analogy #2:  Imagine that you and many others have been invited to a dinner party hosted by a highly-trained chef.  You arrive at the restaurant in a very hungry state.  Upon entering the reserved dining room you observe an elaborately prepared setting.  The finest linen, expensive china dinnerware, sterling silver utensils, and fine crystal glasses adorn the table.  Everyone sits down.  The chef enters.  Appetites are whetted and hopes run high for a much anticipated and needed satisfying feast.
The chef then opens his cookbook and spends the next forty minutes describing how the meal is prepared.  He shows pictures of each course of the dinner while reciting all the ingredients with their proportions and nutritional values.  Most of all, he stresses how delicious, healthful, and sustaining the food is.  He then thanks everyone for coming, bids them farewell until the next dinner party.  The people leave, duly impressed and yet wondering what the aching, empty feeling in their stomach could mean.  You think to yourself, "if only I can remember these recipes and apply them better to my life..."
Preaching is more than good scholarly biblical exegesis. Sheep need to hear why they are hungry and that they are prone to look for food in all the wrong places. Sheep need to be fed.

"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13) 

  "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." (John 6: 27).  

As Christians we all too often trust in our own judgments and seek our own misguided answers for what ails us.  Or even more often, we settle into the dull despair of guilt and condemnation, wondering whether the problem is that there is something uniquely wrong with me (unlike other Christians!), which keeps me at a distance from God's favor.  In this life believers will always be sinners/saints.  We believe in Christ, seek to be faithful (in our better moments), and yet often wander in the fog of our own failed devices.  We know something is wrong within. Exhortations to "trust and obey" only exacerbate the feelings of failure and spiritual hunger.

* Pastorsidentify what is going on in your sheep.  Diagnose it for what it is... our sinful beliefs and behaviors that still wage war against the spirit.  Though saved by the grace of God, sheep come to the church service wearied and dirtied with dust from the week's past sojourn.  Then having rightly diagnosed the inward reality of doubt and self-directed ways of the sheep, wash their feet by once again dispensing the heavenly food which is the Gospel.  Proclaim the Good News of Christ crucified that feeds, renews, sustains, and nourishes the believer's faith:

Oh people of God, what you have failed to do... Jesus has done for you, in your place, by his perfect obedience.  Even more!  Jesus, by his death on the cross, paid your penalty and cleanses you from the filth of all your sin (past, present, and future) which sin so stubbornly assails your conscience. This is God's unbreakable covenant in Christ’s blood for you.

Christians need to hear that their sin which so easily entangles them is in fact that which qualifies them for the remedy of heaven declared in gospel (Luke 5:31-32).  Real food - Jesus Christ crucified and risen for you - that removes sin and assures of God's love (Romans 5:8) now, tomorrow, and forever.  Serve the gospel food that feeds one’s faith and brings forth renewed a heart which redirects the will and bears the fruit of good works.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:
                                                      XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
Believers-still-sinners are fed by the Gospel preached; nourishing and strengthening a true and lively faith.  
And I will bring Israel back to his pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan, and his desire will be satisfied in the hill country of Ephraim and Gilead.  In those days and at that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.’ (Jer. 50: 19-20)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5: 6-10)