In response to my last post about “self-improvement” sermons, I was asked the question, “What would an ideal sermon look like in your world?”
I don’t think there’s a formula for an ideal sermon. However, I do find that at least some mention of Jesus usually helps it along its way.
If the sermon topic relates to my self-improvement (sanctification), then I would hope that the sermon would not play to my old self-righteousness nature, but rather would point me to the righteousness of Christ in me - my new self. When Jesus is mentioned, I would hope it would be the Jesus who does not condemn me, but accepts me as I am, loves me, gives himself up for me, gives me new life, sets me free, empowers me, blesses me, sanctifies me, etc. In other words, the Jesus who is for me, not against me - the Gospel Jesus. This Gospel Jesus is the death of my old self, and the hope of the new.
Recently, I heard a sermon in a Presbyterian church. The topic was patience - a subject that could easily have been moralized into a typical “how to” sermon - how to become more patient. The pastor skillfully avoided doing this. A significant portion of the sermon dealt with the patience of God - His long-suffering nature. Then it also dealt with our human failures to be patient. In other words, we are not at all like God in this way. We are by nature impatient.
At this point, he could have launched into the “how to” portion of the sermon, which (to me at least) would be telling me how to get my nature to become like God's nature. He began with a few practical tips and tricks that people have found to help (counting to 10, etc.) But then he immediately told us that while such methods may help us in some sense, patience is not something we achieve. It is a fruit of the Spirit, not something we go about “getting” through our own efforts.
In fact, he said this quite bluntly. “We can’t try to GET patience. It is a gift of God.” So the first, last and best thing to “do”, is simply ask God for it. Then, if we recognize it in us, we know where it came from, and we have no reason for boasting, except in our Jesus.
To my way of thinking, this sermon “told it like it is.” It did not hold out the false hope that I could “self-help” my way to becoming more patient through some 5-step program. And it did not lay any new burdens on me. It left me in the care of the Burden-Carrier - the All-Patient One.
It may not have been the “ideal sermon”.
But it was pretty close.