Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Idol of Eloquence

I’m a preacher. That’s my job. Most every Sunday I stand before the congregation and deliver a sermon. I love my job. I chose to do this. But, not to elicit your sympathy, it’s not easy. If you’re a church goer I would wager that on Sundays part of your worship experience is to listen to a preacher preach a sermon. Just typing that sentence makes me shudder. The words “preach” and “sermon” both can carry a negative connotation. Who really likes being “preached” at? Does anyone ever look forward to a “sermon”?  Admit it, the preacher has a difficult task.

I would like to think I deliver an interesting and applicable sermon, but I admit some Sundays are better than others.  Sometimes I fumble through the words. Other times an illustration or a joke doesn’t connect. Most of the time when I take my seat I remember something I left out or think of a better way to say what I tried to say. Some sermons are great (at least that’s what my mom always said). Some are good. Some are okay. And some are just plain bad. But however sermons are graded doesn’t just depend on the preacher. Some of it depends on you, the listener.

We admire eloquence and charisma in a public speaker and, speaking for all the preachers I know, we do try to be both. But what is more important, the message or the messenger? Perhaps a good or a bad sermon depends not so much on how it is presented as on how it is received.

Not too long ago I came across this statement: “A spiritually mature person is easily edified.” Could it be that even bad sermons can benefit a person who is more concerned with content than presentation? Could it be that every time a sermon is deemed bad it says more about the listener than it does the preacher? Have we made an idol of eloquence?

John Calvin wrote, “When a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing.” Calvin argues that we can show our love for God’s word by listening attentively to even the “puny” preachers amongst us. In fact, we all may have missed some really good sermons because we tend to grade more by style than substance.

This Sunday when you go to church I hope your preacher has a well prepared, scripture-filled sermon. I hope you’re moved to laughter and tears. But more than that I hope your heart is open to the life-giving word of God. I hope that you are easily edified.

Preaching is hard work and every preacher should be willing to put in that hard work.  But listening is hard work too, and whether a sermon is good or bad depends more on you than your preacher.

My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:4–5 (CSB)

I don't remember 99% of the meals I've eaten, but they've kept me alive. God uses faithful, forgettable sermons to beautify his bride. - Matt Smethurst