Monday, September 06, 2010

On Preaching an MIA Jesus

Well, I went to church again yesterday. Another neighborhood church, walking distance. A quiet, unobtrusive structure, maybe early 60s suburban church style architecture, not much bigger than the houses that surround it. Inside, there were only about 25 in attendance, mostly 50 and older. The church has no pastor these days, but I was moved by the way they carried on, serving one another in humility and grace. They sang together without instrumentation at all, and then they shared their prayer needs. There was a quietness and a humility about all this that impressed me.

Now, I want to say that I am just a guy visiting churches now and then. I have a long history with churches, and have been an active member for many years, but right now I'm just, on occasional Sundays, visiting. In fact, I've kind of developed this notion that I ought to attend every church in my neighborhood (defined by me as within the radius of a 20 minute walk) at least once. I have no desire to be some sort of visiting critic, but I do have this one hobby-horse: I want to hear Christ preached, and the good news about what he's done, and what he is doing. And I'm always startled to find preachers missing their opportunity!

Now, the sermon yesterday was given by one of the elders (the only man in the place who wore a white shirt and tie). It was carefully planned, well-written, and well-spoken. I have absolutely no desire to heap obloquy on this guy. But let me just share with you the essence of his sermon:
He was preaching on Exodus 19, which he read in its entirety. This is where the Lord on Mt. Sinai renews his covenant with Moses, and through Moses with the people of Israel. If the people will obey all of His commands and be obedient, He will bless them as a nation, and they will mediate God to the rest of the world.

Now this portion of the sermon was filled with background information of the kind you might find in a Bible encyclopedia--the whereabouts of Mt. Sinai, the nature of ancient Middle-Eastern covenants, etc. But eventually the preacher got around to drawing the inevitable parallels between Israel in the desert and God's people today. God's people today are also a covenant people. A covenant is a contract. If God's people today will only obey God, they will mediate God to a waiting world. That's the contract. No, it is not a matter "unto salvation," but a matter of fulfilling our purpose as God's covenant people. So the question that he ended with is this: how are you doing with your end of the contract?
Is this not astonishing? How comfortable we all seem to be with a contractual arrangement, a bargain, in which God does his part, and we do ours. How difficult it is for us to grasp that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and what that means. In answer to the gentleman's question, I can tell you how I'm doing with my end of the covenant: imperfectly. This is the starting place at which Jesus always begins to preach the good news of the Kingdom! This gentleman, God bless him anyway, preached a messiah-less Christianity!

Well, that's two local-church visits, and two Jesus-MIA sermons. In one we heard about what we should know, and another about what we should do. These, Byran Chapell says, are the two most common alternatives to a gospel sermon. Anyway, I came home yesterday determined to re-read Hebrews, especially the portion about Jesus as a better Moses. Think I'll go do that now.


n. davis rosback said...


i didn't go this sunday.
but last sunday attended the first service of one of the quaker churches in my area.
i have not gone to the first service before...which
a totally silent hour.
the second service is full, as i have been before and know, but, the first service is attended by about 20 people, give or take a few. now, someone can speak if they want to. and there was a quakerish thought typed on a slip of paper if you wanted to think on it.

i had the hardest time not falling asleep and toppling over.
that's what i mainly thought about.

i think some people were sleeping, but, were very good at staying in a sitting position while doing so.

Milton Stanley said...

Bob, don't disabuse me if I'm wrong on what I'm reading between the lines here, but I take it as a personal honor that you attended the worship of this church. And I'm sorry to hear that Jesus was MIA there. It's something our churches are struggling with in many places: rising above a NT version of the OT covenant and discovering the grace of God. I can really relate, personally, with the struggle to move from Christ merely as Lord to Christ as both Lord and Savior; that's why I feel so at home where I am.

Bob said...

You're assumption is right, Milton. I want to emphasize that my heart went out to these folks, who are clearly trying their best in the context of a dwindling congregation and no pastor. I also want to emphasize that it was just one visit, and not something to generalize from, but I think the message of grace is something we keep struggling against somehow, as if it were not enough.