Pentecost 11 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Romans 10:11-17 August 7, 2021
Believe it or not ... I’m going to do something that I ... to my recollection ... have NEVER done before.
I’m going to preach ...... ABOUT PREACHING!
A couple of months ago ... Pastor Pam and I were texting back and forth about potentially fruitful foci for our worship life this summer ... and I suggested we dust off the old theological concept of “The Means of Grace”.
• The Means of Grace ... as in “the particular avenues by which the Good News of the Gospel actually gets through to us.”
• The Means of Grace ... as in “the tools God chooses to use to stir up faith in the lives of God’s people.”
• The Means of Grace ... as in one of those things by which Lutheran Christians denominated themselves back in the 16th Century.
You see ... the question of “The Means of Grace” ... of just HOW God gets through to hard-headed, hard-hearted, stiff-necked people ... was of particular interest to the so-called ‘Reformers’ ... Doctor Luther and his friends ...
Because they wanted the Church to look like the Church and act like the Church and be the Church that God was calling them to be.
And after much study and reflection .... they came up with a list of five things (as noted in the Smalcald Articles III:4) ... five particular ways in which God gets through to us:
• One ... PREACHING ... “the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to the whole world.”
• Two ... through the Sacrament of Holy BAPTISM.
• Three ... through the Sacrament of Holy COMMUNION.
• Four ... “through the powers of the Keys” ... i.e. CONFESSION and FORGIVENESS ... and
• Five ... “through the mutual CONVERSATION and CONSOLATION of the faithful.”
And so today the lot falls to me ... to tackle the first of those ...
To preach about PREACHING
And I don’t honestly EVER recall preaching about preaching before!
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Have you ever stopped to think about WHY we preach when we gather for worship on Sunday mornings?
WHY it is that you’ve called Pastor Pam and me to preach and teach among you?
WHY it is that sermons are at the center of our worship experiences each week?
IF we were able to be a bit more interactive here at worship than we are right now ... this would be a great thing to have you do a turn-and-talk about ....
To have you do a little bit of self-disclosure as to what YOU think the task of preaching is all about.
And I somehow suspect that the list those ‘turn-and-talks’ might generate a bunch of verbs like:
• “teach” and ...
• “tell” and ...
• “communicate” and ...
• “instruct” and ...
• “reassure” and ...
• “offer” and ...
• “proclaim” ....and stuff like that.
And those are ALL great words.
But ... if you were to ask me to come up with one VERB to define what I think the task of preaching is all about ... the verb I would choose is this one ........ “DISRUPT”!
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You know that word “disrupt”???
It means “to break apart” ...
It means “to throw into disorder” ...
It means “to interrupt the normal course of things” ...
It means “to cause upheaval in “ ...
And ... in more recent days ... it has particularly come to mean “to successfully challenge and then fundamentally change the nature of things.”
When significant change happens ... it totally disrupts the world as we know it ... does it not???
Change is inconvenient.
Change is “disruptive”.
I mean ....
In 1776 ... a nascent democracy disrupted a long-established monarchy ... and the world has never quite been the same.
In 1908 ... the automobile industry disrupted the horse breeding-and-feeding industries ... and the world has never quite been the same.
In 1989 ... email disrupted the US Postal Service ... and the world has never quite been the same.
We could go on and on and on with that list ... could we not?
How some disruptive force comes along and changes everything else around it???
And when that change happens ... some people love it and some people don’t.
I mean ....
• King George the Third was none to happy with the disruption of the American Revolution.
• The folks at General Mills and Purina were none too happy with the disruption the automobile cause to the horse-food industry.
• The Postal Workers union is still lamenting the disruption caused by email.
But ... at the end of the day ... NONE of us would really want to go back to the way it was before ... would we???
For ... as one technology writer noted: “Few people are crying that Edison put the lantern makers out of business.”
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You know ... in a certain way ... I suspect you could think about the whole of the Bible as a series of divine ‘disruptions’ in the human enterprise.
• In Exodus ... Moses encounters that bush that burns but isn’t burned up ... and it stops him dead in his tracks ... and God speaks to Moses out of that bush ... and Moses’ life is disrupted ... and the Pharaoh’s life is disrupted ... and the lives of the people of God are most certainly disrupted ... and the world has never quite been the same.
• In the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel ... there’s this young girl named Mary who has her life disrupted by an angel ... and the world has never quite been the same.
• On the mountain of the Transfiguration ... Peter’s and James’ and John’s lives are disrupted by a voice from a cloud ... ... and the world has never quite been the same.
• On Easter morning ... the women find the stone rolled away from the tomb ... but when they go in ... they don’t find the body of Jesus ... then they hear that he’s been raised ... and the world has never quite been the same.
In each of those cases ... in each of those divine encounters ... there’s some disruptive information that is communicated .... and the trajectories of the lives of those people of God are changed forever and changed for good.
And isn’t that what we somehow hope preaching does??
Change the trajectories of peoples’ live ... change them forever ... change them for good???
‘Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’??
‘Disrupt peoples’ lives with the Good News of Jesus Christ’??
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I mean ... think about how disruptive some of the messages contained in the Bible really are and/or could be:
How about this one: “You are valued for who you are, not for what you do or what you have done.”
There’s a great story in the Bible about a Roman soldier who feels guilty for what happened on his watch at a prison he was in charge of ... so guilty in fact that he decides the only thing to do is commit suicide ... until Paul helps him see another way out ... a way out based on the message “You are valued for who you are ... not for what you have done.”
And I can’t be imagine how precious THAT message might be to those returning veterans and those Capitol police officers and the like whose lives have been so deeply scarred by what they have done and what they have witnessed that they see suicide as the only way out.
Or how about the invitation from last week’s lesson to “keep yourselves from idols”.
We don’t think of ourselves as pagans. That’s for certain. But maybe its time we own up to how we fall down prostrate before the gods of success and beauty and popularity and prosperity and perfection.
I’m not telling you folks something you don’t already know ... but Orinda and Moraga and Lafayette are profligate aspirants to anything and everything that looks like success and/or beauty and/or popularity and/or prosperity and/or perfection. We’ll make just about ANY sacrifice that gets us closer to those false gods.
And maybe the message these communities we live in NEED to hear has to do with calling out those idols for what they are.
Or Paul’s affirmation that ... for people of God ... there is “neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Or the simple assertion that “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more... And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less ... Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”
These ... and countless other disruptive thoughts ... are at the heart of the Bible’s message to the world.
They are the message that you call us to preach ... to proclaim ... to declare.
For ... at the end of the day ... you’ve called us ... Pastor Pam and I ... to disrupt your lives with the truth of the Gospel.
To afflict you when you’re too comfortable ... and to comfort you when you’re too afflicted.
To preach to you the Word.
For that is one way that the Truth and Life of God get through to us all.