Ask me to do something great...

There's an old story about Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure whether or not it's true, but I love the story so much I hope it is.

It is said that Abraham Lincoln, during a particularly difficult time in the Civil War, snuck in the back door of the church that sits down the street from his residence so as to go unnoticed. He sat through the music, and the sermon, and waited until the entire church had cleared out before he trudged back home so as to not cause a distraction for others.

When Lincoln returned home from the church service that night, his wife met him in their private quarters and asked him about the service. "It was okay," Lincoln replied, obviously unimpressed.

"Did you not like the music?" Mrs. Lincoln asked.

"Oh, I did" replied the president. "It was sung beautifully, artfully, and lifted my spirits beyond what I ever could have imagined," he said.

"Oh, then you must not have enjoyed the pastor's sermon," Lincoln's wife answered.

"No, he was articulate, well-informed, and eloquent. He was humorous, but not too much so; sober, but not too much so. The sermon was researched and presented well. But ultimately, it failed miserably" replied the war-weary president.

"It failed? After all that? How could it have failed?" asked the president's wife.

"It failed, because in that well-informed hour, the pastor failed to call us to do anything truly great," said Lincoln.

If this story is true, it seems as though things haven't changed a great deal in the century and a half since Lincoln left his church disappointed.

This is preaching week in two of my preaching classes. For the first several weeks of class, the professors lecture on good preaching style, the development of a message's content, and the proper form of the good sermon. After the lectures are complete, it is our turn as students to step into the pulpit and show what we've learned.

The result so far? Many sermons that are stylistically flawless, well-informed, and with a three-point outline that would make Billy Graham green with envy. And yet, I almost always leave class disappointed.

It's not different in chapel, where we bring the "best of the best" to speak to what are supposed to be the best of the best tomorrow. I hear lots of great speeches, and lots of great sermons, but more often than not I go away without anyone having challenged me to do something truly great.

Yet, when I read the Scriptures, I see a different kind of sermon. They're always theologically precise. They're always well thought-out, well outlined, and use excellent illustrations. But they don't stop with style and presentation. They take the next step of asking the listener to do something truly great.

I think it's time we re-think the purpose of our sermons. Do we expect to merely transfer information? Do we hope to change someone's thinking? Or are we hoping through our sermons to pierce the life of the hearer with God-honoring truth, and to challenge them to respond in a way that is not passive listening, but active trust and obedience in response to an encounter with the God of the universe?

I'm tired of listening to (and preaching) sermons that simply give the hearer something to know. I'm ready for someone to ask me to do something truly great.


chloeadele said...

When you preach, ask them to do something great. you've been asked to do something great as well.

I double dog dare you. :)

GUNNY said...

Me thinks you're on to something, but it goes to the purpose of preaching.

If you're shooting for information transfer or entertainment only, then you're on the way, but not to the finish line.

In my mind, the goal of preaching is life change to the glory of God.

This may entail taking some risks, but certainly dependence on God as faith is deepened.

If it's easy, a person doesn't need to look outside of his/her badself. But, to do something for the glory of God, I need His help.

Good stuff.

Sola gratia,