My wife was commenting on a sermon she heard recently. “It was a fine sermon in many respects. It called for the right kind of actions and spoke of the Holy Spirit. And then it hit me. Nowhere does this person’s preaching deal with the gospel, mention Calvary, or call for repentance.”
She said, “I suppose the sermon works if everyone is saved and obedient and has a sincere desire to serve God. But what if they aren’t? What if we are rebels, what if our hearts are in rebellion against God? What then?”
“Preaching like this sneaks up on you,” she said, referring to what that sermon was missing.
Much has been said about the sermon delivered by the Episcopal bishop at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. Most of us enjoyed hearing the sermon, particularly because it was so American and so typical of the African-American tradition we’re familiar with but which presumably the British elite crowd is not.
When I posted the link to the sermon on my Facebook page and recommended people listen to it, the comments poured in. Most enjoyed it and felt it was a refreshing improvement over the typical platitudes one hears at such high-falutin’ occasions. But others faulted the bishop for what he did not do.
In glorifying love and in celebrating God’s love for humanity, Bishop Curry never mentioned sin, failed to reference mankind’s resistance to Almighty God’s plan, and did not call for any change of behavior or repentance.
I said to one friend, “We are faulting the preacher for not scoring 100 on a sermon where he earned a solid 95, whereas neither I nor the critic would have made a passing grade at all.” And he agreed.
Bishop Curry is not my pastor. I’ve never heard him preach before, and presumably will not again. But what I heard, I like and approved of.
If my pastor preached on love all the time, but failed to deal with mankind’s failure to love (or his love for all the wrong things) and failed to call him to repentance, that would matter to me greatly. If my pastor preached on helping our neighbor, feeding the poor, defending the weak, and working for justice for the defenseless, that would matter to me greatly. But if the pastor never deal with the heart issues behind our selfishness, our injustice, and our crimes, if he never presented the biblical message of what God in Heaven did about these things (“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son!”), then that would matter a great deal.
God’s people must always be vigilant. And sensitive. And knowledgeable about the Word.
Let’s pray for sensitivity to what we are hearing. We recall what was said of the Bereans as Paul began preaching to them about Jesus. “These were more noble (some translations say ‘fair-minded’) than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Let’s pray for our pastors to get it right. And appreciate them when they do. Someone will say, “Why should I compliment the pastor when he preaches truth. That’s why God called him and why we pay him.” True enough, but you have no idea the pressures he faces to compromise God’s message. So, when the sermon blesses you or when you happen to know the pastor paid a price to deliver this message and get it on target, speak up. Tell him, tell others, and do not be silent.
And one more. If you find the pastor preaching questionable doctrine, ask him about it. Be gentle and give him the opportunity to tell you what is going on. You might ask something like, “Pastor, could you tell me again what you said about (such-and-so)? I’m not sure I understood.” After all, there’s always the possibility you didn’t.
And if he is preaching an outright falsehood, do not panic. Recall a scripture that refutes what he is saying and ask, “Then, what do you do with that?” For instance…
I once heard a pastor say from the pulpit, “The night before Jesus went to the cross, when He was praying in Gethsemane, there is evidence He did not know He would be raised from the dead.” I thought at first I’d not heard him correctly. But when he said it again a few minutes later, I knew he really believed that. So, at the first opportunity, I said, “Some of us remember the Lord telling the disciples, ‘As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, even so must the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth” and “Destroy this temple and I was raise it up.” He was not happy I had called him on that and had no answer. I suspect he was quoting some liberal professor he had studied under.
No one should sit under a preacher whose sermons are without the gospel, who does not believe Scriptures, or who doubts the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In such a case, if the leadership of the congregation supports him, then I’m out of there.
No one should be so wed to the building or history of a church that he/she remains even when heresy has become mainstream.
A parent may show tough love to his children by disciplining them. Likewise, we demonstrate the genuine love of the Lord Jesus when we put loyalty to Him and His word above everything else.