Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Preaching Emptiness

None of this means that we should preach only to disturb people, or expressly to disturb them. Many of our priests, prophets, and pastors are very good at this, but it's entirely the wrong thing to do.

More and more, it's becoming difficult to go to church and learn anything about God. That's just the sad truth. Most of our services are planned around getting men and women to become dissatisfied with their lives, then draw them toward the idea of God as a solution to their unrest. More and more, I'm convinced that it's nearly impossible to be spiritually healthy in most of our churches.

Because if you show up on Sunday morning and you're confident in who God is, one of two things is bound to happen: either you'll find the message of church boring and irrelevant or the message will be so convincing that you'll leave the church building wondering if you ever knew anything about God at all. 

Boring and irrelevant church is a dangerous idea, for two reasons. First is that it may tempt some of us to become spiritually arrogant. The longer we sit in churches that are preaching spiritual milk, the louder we seem to chew on our theological steak. We're so far beyond all of that "basic God stuff" that it's easy to sit in our pews and reflect on how so very long ago it was that we had such silly questions, how long ago it was that we first contemplated the Cross.

Second, a boring and irrelevant church is one that struggles to retain its spiritual giants. Those who aren't growing spiritually arrogant are becoming disengaged as the message remains stagnant and the heart longs to grow. The more the message of God is preached for the sake of drawing people to the Cross, the easier it is for long-time Christians to sit there on Sunday mornings and grow increasingly restless. Is this all there is to Jesus? Then what do we need church for? If the entire message of God is that your life is terrible without Him, and you've come to Him earnestly, then there's no more need for a message. No more need to continue to sit in church on Sunday morning because you've heard all that God has to offer. Might as well go shopping or get some more work done around the house.

And that is the second concern of those who show up spiritually confident - the messages we're hearing in church today are deliberately disturbing in such a way that if you don't question everything you've ever known - about yourself, about your life, about your God - it feels like you're missing out on something. 

Our messages are designed to get you to think about all the dissatisfying things in your life. They're written to make you uncomfortable with yourself. They're preached to pierce deep into your heart. And if your heart is satisfied in God when you hear those words, all of a feel heartless. You feel like there's something wrong with you because you're not connecting to this sermon that you know contains truth. Now, you're praying because your heart feels depraved, because it feels like you're not connecting with God as much as you thought you were, even though this couldn't be further from the truth. But you're convicted that you're not convicted, and this makes you question whether you have any real relationship with God at all.

By the final Amen on any Sunday morning, the church is filled with persons who are wholly dissatisfied with life, with themselves, with God, and who feel the sting of their own emptiness, either because they connect with the message in the sermon or they don't. 

We're preaching emptiness and pretending it's holy.

This is not the kind of disturbed that we were meant to be. This is not the way that love and grace are supposed to make us feel. This is not what truth does when it's spoken into the lives of men and women - believers or otherwise. And yet, it's very much how we do church. This is our Sunday morning.

When John spoke to Herod, he never spoke in order to disturb the king. He wasn't trying to make Herod feel bad about his life, about himself, about everything he'd ever known. He simply spoke truth because it was all he knew to do. He simply spoke grace because grace is all he had. He simply spoke love because God is love. And that's the difference.

So what do we do? How do we do it? Stay tuned. I have one radical idea....

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