Monday, March 29, 2021

A Reminder and Some Comfort

For my morning quiet time with God, I'm using The Discipleship Journal's Bible reading plan. It includes a reading from one of the four Gospels, a New Testament reading, a Psalm or a portion of one, and an Old Testament reading for twenty-five days each month. 

Today's readings provided me with comfort and a reminder.

The reminder came from Psalm 72. This is a royal or enthronement psalm, associated with King Solomon. It reminds me of what we're to expect of good political or government leaders. It says of such leaders: 

...he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:12-14)

May all the nations of the world have leaders like these. In light of the numbers of despotic governments there are around the world and democratic populations' increasing flirtations with authoritarianism, praying in Jesus' name for leaders like the psalm describes seems a good thing for Christians to do.

The reading from 1 Corinthians gave me comfort in two different ways.

First, there's the comfort of knowing that no matter how much I sin or screw up, as I turn back to Jesus Who claimed me in my Baptism, I can rest assured of His grace. Paul tells the first-century Corinthian Christians, who seemed to specialize in sinning and screwing up, that because of the Gospel they had received--the good news of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus--Christ "...will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:8) The Jesus I turn to each day is faithful even when I'm not and covers me in His righteousness and His grace. That's good news because, on my own, I know that I'm neither righteous nor worthy of grace.

Second, I found a bit of comfort for a preacher looking at Holy Week. This week and Easter seem to present a special temptation for us preachers. The temptation is to be clever, memorable, fresh, innovative. We tell ourselves, "This week presents us with opportunities to share the Gospel with people who don't ordinarily hear it." Or, "I can't be my old boring self for the 'regulars.'"

You see what's going on? We're tempted to think that this week is about what we say and do rather than about what Jesus has done and is going to do. We, who rail against "works righteousness" and try each day to help people know that we can't and aren't saved by our good deeds get lured by the devil, the world, and our sinful selves into thinking that our "performances" during Holy Week will "wow" people into faith or deepened faith.

To be sure, some churchgoers and some people who just show up on Christmas or Easter will be wowed by clever or entertaining preaching. And, God knows, that the call of the preacher is not to be deliberately stupid or boring. 

But, it's not about the preacher's performance! 

In the second passage that struck me in today's reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is lamenting the fact that some in the Corinthian churches were identifying themselves by the preachers they most enjoyed. Some said that they followed Paul. Others said they followed Apollos or Cephas (Simon Peter). But, Paul said that neither he, Apollos, or Cephas had died and risen for anyone. Only Christ had done that. None of them were true God and true man. They were just people whose lives were being transformed by the undeserved grace of God given to all who believe in Jesus.

Then, Paul says that God had sent him to the Corinthians "but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (1 Corinthians 1:17)

This is exactly what I needed God to tell me on this Monday of Holy Week! My call as a preacher isn't to wow people. It's simply to present Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, so that sinners like me know that we can turn to Jesus in faith, however weak or imperfect our faith may be and know that we have life with God now and forever. That good news, or evangel, both synonyms of the term Gospel, is exciting enough and transforming enough that I don't need to strive for excitement or raising goosebumps. As the late Baptist pastor, Gerald Mann, used to say, the preacher's aim is not to get people to say, "Lord, what a preacher we have!" It's to have them say, "Preacher, what a Lord we have!"

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