Gather, receive, respond, and go.
This is the primary pattern of worship we use in the church today. As we continue to work through the deconstruction of worship in our sermon series, we’ve already talked about the order of worship and the gathering of God’s people. We shared about the importance of the call to worship and how the gathering time is a response to God’s invitation to come together. That worship isn’t an action we initiate TOWARD God, but instead that worship is our RESPONSE to God’s initiative. We also talked last week about how during this time of gathering we are in preparation to hear God’s Word. We come together, we lift up praises in song and prayer, and we lay down our burdens at God’s feet so that we can come into this time of hearing his Word as open to the movement of the Spirit as possible. Today, we’re going to explore that part, the second part of this four-fold pattern of worship – receive.
The receiving of God’s Word is at the very heart of who we are.
From the earliest days of worship, God gathered his people for the purpose of receiving his Word and God used ordinary, everyday people to deliver it. In the passage we just read in Deuteronomy we were reminded that it was God who gathered his people before Mt. Horeb – which most scholars believe is another name for Mt. Sinai – and in that gathering delivered to them the Word, literally. He gave them the Ten Commandments and then he appointed Moses to teach them. It was God who appointed Solomon, God who appointed David, God who appointed the prophets, and of course God who sent Jesus. All great leaders, but more importantly all who taught the Word of God. And when Jesus left, he appointed the disciples to continue his work and imbued them with the Holy Spirit so that they could go forth and proclaim God’s Word. In the passage we’ll be reading from this morning, Paul explains the importance of this task to Timothy in his second letter to him. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to 2 Timothy 4:1. These are Paul’s final instructions to Timothy. He says in verse 6 that he knows he is soon about to die, but he wants to leave these words as encouragement. He doesn’t start out in the best way. He tells him to expect hardship. He tells him to expect persecution. That having the protection of the Lord is a promise of salvation, but not freedom from the troubles of THIS place. And he tells Timothy something very important. He says to him in this letter that all he needs is imbedded in Scripture. That all Scripture is God-breathed, and that will be enough to teach, rebuke, correct, and train God’s people. Then he gives him these following words.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
We hear from Paul the vital role preaching plays in the life of God’s people.
It is used to correct, rebuke, and encourage – but I really like and appreciate what he adds right there at the end of verse 2. After a pause, he writes, “with great patience and careful instruction.” With great patience and careful instruction – as if to heighten the importance of those words. Preaching isn’t something you do at the last minute – although there are times when I feel like I’m reworking and refining up to the last minute. Preaching isn’t something you do extemporaneously. Preaching is a craft done with great patience and care because it’s that important. On average a good sermon takes about an hour to prepare for each minute preached. A good sermon takes about an hour to prepare for each minute preached. That seems appropriate because the task at hand is important. It can be the difference between turning away from God or holding fast to his Word in difficult and challenging circumstances. Paul writes that there will come a time when people will turn away from the truth and instead turn to myths. Today, that might mean other religions or it might mean relying on money, wealth, or power. It might mean turning to false beliefs. And so what we share and how we share it can influence the power of these “myths” over people’s lives.
One of the concerns we have is making sure we preach God’s Word and not our own.
That’s true if you’re standing in the pulpit or sharing what the Bible says with a friend. It’s a danger we always have when using the Bible to say, “this is what God wants.” We have to be extra careful to make sure we’re not just looking for what we WANT the Bible to say instead of what it actually says. This is the difference between what scholars call exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis is deriving meaning FROM God’s Word as opposed to eisegesis, which is reading meaning INTO God’s Word. Exegesis is deriving meaning FROM God’s Word as opposed to eisegesis, which is reading meaning INTO God’s Word. Now eisegesis is probably easiest to see when you hear people quoting Scripture to justify the outrageous or horrible things they do in the name of God. Bombing abortion clinics because God doesn’t like abortion, or killing people who are homosexual because God doesn’t like homosexuality – these are instances of people reading into the Bible their own version of what God calls on us to do. But often times the ways in which we place our own opinions and own thoughts into what “God says” are more subtle. When people preach prosperity Gospel, that God will reward you materially for your faith – that if you just had enough faith, then you would be rich and prosperous – this is one of the more egregious forms of eisegesis. Using the Scripture, quoting from Scripture, to justify our own selfish actions. It’s always amazing to me how people forget how God calls on us to love one another and to give to the poor. I never read anywhere in the Bible where God wanted us to have a Rolls Royce or private plane. Not that having those things is bad, but to have those things and say it’s because God is rewarding your faith and here’s where it says so in the Bible is wrong. The irresponsible use of God’s Word can be incredibly harmful and that’s why Paul tells us it’s so important to use care and patience when sharing it.
But if we do share, we can do it in a number of ways.
In pulpit preaching there are three main styles pastors use. There is topical, textual, and expository. Topical, textual, and expository. And they can be explained in three simple sentences. Topical sermons preach ABOUT the Bible. Textual sermons preach FROM the Bible. And expository sermons preach the Bible. Topical sermons preach ABOUT the Bible, textual sermons preach FROM the Bible, and expository sermons preach the Bible. Topical sermons are pretty easy to explain. They generally preach about a subject that God has put upon your heart to share and then you read Scripture verses that pertain to that topic. Textual sermons tend to be about a specific block of text. Most pastors who use this type of preaching are called lectionary preachers. The lectionary, or more formerly the revised common lectionary because well…it’s been revised, covers key passages in the Bible throughout a three-year period and what the pastor does each week is take that text and try to determine what God is saying through it. The expository sermon is a literal verse-by-verse explanation of a particular passage or book in the Bible. Someone who preaches in this style tries to tell us what the passage is saying in a modern context. And lately there’s been a fourth style emerging called the narrative style and this style seeks to tell a story about a passage. It kind of fills in the gaps that sometimes we wonder about and tries to have you experience what it might have been like to BE there. None of these are better than the others. They are just different. Done in the right way, each of these can be deeply fulfilling styles of preaching. Done in the wrong way, any of these styles can devolve into the kind of preaching that Paul warns us about. Each of these reach us in different ways and can be useful in different situations.
But the most amazing thing about preaching is that it has very little to do with us.
Like everything else in worship, preaching is about God. Preaching is about God. Before I became a pastor, Cassie and I were attending Alpharetta United Methodist Church near our home in Georgia. We had decided we wanted to attend a Methodist church and a friend of hers invited us and said she thought we would like it. So Cassie convinced me to go with her and we attended the contemporary worship service that her friend went to. It was led by a female pastor named Jane and Jane was around our age. She wore normal clothes, didn’t wear a robe or a stole, and seemed like someone you might bump into in the grocery store. But we both really liked her sermons. They were relevant, they told interesting stories we could connect to, and her messages always revealed something new about the Bible. After going for about a couple of months, I went up to her one day and said “thank you” for the wonderful message and I’ll never forget her response. She said to me, “It wasn’t me. It was God.” Here I am relatively new to church and I’m thinking, “What was THAT about? Doesn’t she know how to take a compliment?” It wasn’t me, it was God? Did she expect me to believe that God wrote the sermon and God spoke the words as if she were possessed? Or was it false humility? I mean I know it was her speaking. But that statement always stuck with me and I remembered it especially one day when I was preaching in my first appointment. I had written about 35 sermons in a row and I was really struggling with number 36. Just absolutely NOTHING was coming to me. After a lot of prayer and…well a LOT more prayer, I finally finished the sermon, but it was FAR from my best. I was thinking in my head, “Okay, just get through this week and you’ll do better next Sunday.” But after worship, I had two different people come up to me and tell me it was exactly what they needed to hear. I was shocked and amazed. What did they hear? Because I heard a lot of drivel. And then another person came up and said the same thing and then proceeded to tell me what it was she heard me saying that touched her heart so much and I just stood there with the most loving smile I could possibly muster on my face because what she was saying was NOTHING like what I had written down. It was like I gave a sermon on loving your dog and she heard me say you should go buy a cat. And at that moment, my pastor’s words rang so true in my head. It wasn’t me. It was God. We do the best job we can. We try to be relevant. We try to be engaging. But you never know when the Holy Spirit will use you in a completely different way. I don’t use the line that Jane shared with me that day. When people come up to me and say that they enjoyed the sermon, I always say thank you and will sometimes say, “I just try my best to stay out of God’s way.” Which is true. We need the Word of God in our lives. As Jesus said in the desert, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” Presenting God’s Word is a humbling and honoring experience, but as in all things the Holy Spirit is at work in this place so that we can hear what God needs us to hear. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.