Monday, February 23, 2009

An uncomfortable sermon

Yes, yesterday I did preach on Luke 6:46 "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord', and do not do what I say?" There's too much to report on in detail (far too much!) In the passage Luke 6:43-49 this question acts as a bridge between two tests:
1) Words show character - the two trees (verses 43-45)
2) Action shows obedience - the two builders (verses 46-49).
It wasn't comfortable to preach. Our conversation and our conduct reveal the truth about us.

Towards the end I mentioned a gerontologist I met at a conference last month. I had heard about how ageing often reveals true character. The bitter angry person becomes increasingly bitter and angry, while the kind loving person does the opposite. I asked her if this was true. "Yes," she said. "We often lose the ability to regulate our feelings as we age, and so the real person emerges!" That sounds scarey!

But it raises such big issues about how we progress (or regress) in the spiritual life, not only as individuals, but as churches. We are called to develop as God's people and "become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph 4:13). How can we help each other to grow better in word and deed, to display more fruit (Gal 5:22) by God's grace?

I don't think the contemporary church is very good at this. A challenging book on ethical preaching (David J. Schlafer and Timothy F. Sedgwick, Preaching what we practice - proclamation and moral discernment, Morehouse 2007) suggest six practices that Christians need to develop for moral formation. These contrast markedly with the world's values:
  • prayer and worship
  • forgiveness and reconciliation
  • formation of households as communities of faith
  • hospitality as the embrace of the stranger and those in need
  • citizenship and political responsibility
  • reverence for creation

Together these call congregations to engage in corporate accountability and mutual moral responsibility, and to mature in their practices through God's grace. As the old hymn puts it: "Changed from glory into glory."

There is much to chew over here. Certainly, should I remain exactly the same as I was five years ago raises a vital challenge. And for a church to be exactly the same is a profound challenge too. Jesus expects people who call him "Lord" to show it by the way they put his gift of a new way of life (John 3:7, 2 Cor 5:17) into practice. And this means us together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you noticed how incredibly complacent our culture has become about titles? (Perhaps not in the UK, but certainly in the US). We address our faculty by their first name....Michael, not Dr. Quicke! We communicate with our physicians and ministers on a first name basis. Yet, where does the familiarity lead us? Perhaps to a level of casualness that is not in our own best interest. Might it be the same thing with our relationship with the LORD? We like to call this one, Jesus. It sounds so cozy, doesn't it? So childlike. So innocent. Yet, what about the title LORD? Might we almost be fearful of invoking a title that reminds us of our irreverance and calls us toward a life of true discipleship? Calling Him Jesus seems so easy; but calling Him LORD is both frightening and humbling. It reminds us of the need to be serious about our faith in a way that supercedes casual familiarity and is demonsrated by nothing less than radical obedience. Wow...Jesus really did have some tough things to say, didn't he?