It’s felt good recently to begin reclaiming my evangelistic “Baptist” preaching voice. While the message I preach as a UCC pastor is very different from what I heard growing up, the fervor and passion I felt from those sermons is creeping into my own. And, yes. It’s felt good…
…or it did…until yesterday during Sunday School when I heard comments about my preaching of late. “You keep telling these stories about people who are making such a big difference! What? Am I supposed to go out and save the life of someone who’s dying (like the people in the story I told yesterday)? It just feels like too much!” Others tried to comfort the person by saying, “You can make a difference simply by the way you live your life. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or extreme.” And there’s one person—God bless her!—who’s always quick to remind us: “Living the Christian life doesn’t have to be hard.”
The teacher in me loves that the sermon was provocative enough—or at least the illustration I used was—that people expressed their feelings about it and that, as a group, the participants were able to reflect deeply about their faith. The teacher in me was pleased.
But the preacher in me? Yikes. I had forgotten to whom I was preaching. The people in the congregation I serve are very faithful. They try hard to follow Jesus. They live their faith as authentically and deeply as they know how. There’s not a pretentious person in the lot.
How do you preach to people who are so genuinely good? How do you challenge people who work hard to live their faith and still—after working really hard—despair about all they still aren’t doing? How do you preach to the guilt-prone?
I asked my psychotherapist husband that question yesterday afternoon. His response: Don’t focus so much on challenging them to share God’s love. Help them to receive God’s love.
It was a short response, but rang true. Another person in yesterday’s conversation said that helping others is not a problem for her. It’s asking for help that’s difficult. A lot of people nodded their heads. Perhaps the real challenge for these ardent and hard-working disciples is to remind them—and keep reminding them—that the good news is for them, too. God loves them, too. God’s grace is for them, too…
…and perhaps even for their guilt-prone pastor!
One fact remains that does not change: God has loved you, loves you now, and will always love you. This is the good news that brings us new life. Thanks be to God!