Sick of Sermons
Never watch a medical drama with a medical professional. At least not unless you're ready to hear why it's all wrong. Sure, those actors can pronounce necrotizing fasciitis, but sooner or later they'll hold the stethoscope wrong, and that's when your medical friend will make a guttural noise, followed by "that's not how you're supposed to do that." It's probably true. But it doesn't help me connect to the story.
Expertise makes it easy to spot imperfection. I've wanted to tell my show-spoiling friends that the inability to see beyond imperfections might be symptomatic of a sickness. The technical term for the malady is expertitis. It's an inflammation of the expertise cortex, that, when unchecked, can lead to a chronic overstimulation of the pompous gland.
I know because I have it.
In graduate school and as I entered the ministry, I found that I and many of my friends became afflicted with expertitis either while listening to a sermon or immediately following one. Symptoms of this sickness include grimaces, sidelong glances, snide whispers, and pedantic monologues in the car ride home or over lunch. Or, sometimes the only symptom exhibited is mentally checking-out—disconnecting from the sermon, the preacher, the Word.
Some sufferers have lived with this condition for so long that they have found ways to manage it: committing to ministries that pull them out of the sermon, "prophetic" blogging, venting during theology pub night, or using the sermon-time for completely unrelated spiritual exercises. The long-term prognosis is grave: spiritual malnourishment. The table that God sets for us has two parts, Word and Sacrament, and Christ is the bread of both. But we only get what we're willing to receive.
How can we fight this illness that has us always excusing ourselves from the table during the first course and frequently ruining the appetite of others? I recommend aggressive treatment.
Brain implants: thinking true things about the sermon
It matters that we think rightly about the sermon. If we think of it as entertainment then it makes sense to give a review. If the sermon is something more profound than that, it should give people like me pause that we so often respond like television critics.
From the very earliest days, the apostles proclaimed that the whole Old Testament had finally reached its purpose in Jesus. This act became a trademark of the church throughout time. The apostles' teaching (New Testament) about the Old Testament is still what we devote ourselves to in the sermon.
So here's the first thing I've tried to have implanted in my brain: the sermon tradition is older, bigger, holier, and cooler than any preacher, church, or recent seminary graduate out there. I ought to approach this time-honored and sacred tradition with an attitude of respect.
And here's the second thing: The Father gave us the Holy Spirit and this tradition of proclamation so that we can regularly meet Jesus anew, both personally and corporately as a church. Every sermon, that is the opportunity I'm being granted. Yes, I may have to divide some truth from error. But if I give my attention to the truth rather than the error, then I may meet Jesus and be changed and draw closer to my neighbor who is also meeting Jesus and being changed. Knowing that the sermon is such a grand opportunity increases my diligence not to miss what God is doing.