“No shortcuts.” That was the gist of the impression I received this last week as I considered preparing for Sunday morning. It was a reminder, provoked by the Holy Spirit, about the very nature of the thing that has come to be called “the sermon” or “the message.” I’ve sat under some good messages and daydreamed through some bad ones. I’ve also given my fair share of both. They usually rely on a structure (at my church we have a template to keep us on track and it’s pretty functional), but can fail to become a message from God on two basic levels.
1. My message probably won’t confront anybody if the content of it—the Bible—hasn’t confronted me. My best messages are the ones that personally engage me. I think about them during the week when I’m not necessarily scheduled to be working on them. They intersect current questions in my life and proactively address questions that are coming. Occasionally the passage under consideration hurts me, but only in the sense that a doctor setting a broken leg hurts you in order to help you. What’s more, after I deliver these words, I don’t forget about them. Their substance, which is digested truth, stays with me like fine steak. What’s interesting is that these messages are not necessarily the most entertaining for listeners. That’s the part that drives me the most crazy, but comes with the territory. I suppose if I don’t like it there’s always barber’s college.
2. My message probably won’t invite people into spiritual reality if I haven’t climbed into it, either. The way to get people on board is from where I am located inside the aircraft. I call, invite, or welcome people in. I don’t herd them into some place, shut the door, and remain behind. I’ve boarded a lot of areas of the Bible and gone on some inspiring adventures, but that was at other times in other places. We’re talking about this Sunday and in 1 Corinthians 15. I can’t just rely on past experiences. Only right now counts. So, a “professional preacher” just won’t do. What our people are going to need is a teacher/prophet/herald/priest/small-time-nobody-who-got-down-on-his-knees-and-met-Jesus. At least I can deliver the last one in that lineup. Anything less is probably just a great big shortcut.