So, today I did this.
OK, not exactly that. But close.
First off, I’m mentally exhausted. And physically. These things do not go together with well-presented sermons. I’ve been struggling with a cold, and for some reason part of that means I’ve been having disturbing dreams. They started out just silly and weird. In one, I was a magical pony in charge of keeping time running. You know, nothing scary, but plenty odd. I’m fairly certain I have no plans or hopes of jumping a special barrier and becoming a pony. But then I dreamed that I lost an eye in a disturbingly realistic and long dream (even featuring pain!). And then I dreamed two dear friends separated. And then I dreamed my mother-in-law died. In short, I haven’t been sleeping well.
Add to that a fantastic family reunion yesterday that necessitated eight hours of driving and a way-too-early start, along with prepping for Christmas week, and I’m just shot.
And that sum equals… me going off the script.
Usually it’s not that big a deal. Usually it means I’m adding some insight or an illustration that’s just come to me to try and clarify a main point. Usually I know my audience and myself well enough to know what works and what won’t.
Ah, but today?
I get to the Law section of the sermon. And I lose it. It’s not quite what the dude in the movie did. I didn’t whine or anything. But man… it was not good. One of my regular visitors told me he thought I’d turned into a Baptist. He meant it as a compliment, but it stung me.
Now, every sermon should have law. (Or nearly every – on occasion I will preach a sermon that’s pure Gospel, based on what the text is, but those are very, very rare.) Every sermon should remind us why Jesus is so amazing and why we need the Gospel. Of this I have no quibbles. But the Law has its place. It should never overwhelm the Gospel. While we need the Law to cut, it should not so decapitate that I am unable to process the Gospel at all. If the Law blinds me to the Gospel, I have missed the point.
And today… today I fear that I went so over-the-top with the Law that for at least some of my congregation, I overwhelmed the Gospel.
A woman in the first occupied row was bawling her eyes out. My congregational president was teary. More than one person was queasy.
Pounding on the pulpit. Shouting. I just lost it.
OK, I didn’t say that. But what I did was over the top and out of bounds.
And I realized it. I didn’t backtrack; what I said had not been wrong. It was the Law in all its force. But I had presented it in such a way– no one’s going to remember the Gospel from that sermon. They’re going to remember law law law law law. And the only result of law is either despair or deceptive self-righteousness.
The rest of the service, I poured on the Gospel. Especially for that woman in the front row. I know her. She needed that Gospel. The Law had broken her. She needed not more Law, but Gospel Gospel Gospel Gospel.
As we presented the offering, I told the congregation, “We suffer under the curse of sin, but Jesus has come to us and forgiven us. Now, let’s respond to that forgiveness!”
We sang the “Lamb of God” — you might know it as the kyrie — and afterward I said, “We just prayed, ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.” We recognize that Jesus is the Lamb of God. He was sacrificed, he died so we don’t have to. He took the punishment of the sins of the world, and we recognize that. Now we pray — ‘Lord, just like you took away the sins of the world, have mercy on me, too.'”
At Communion, I pointed out before we began distribution, “Here is forgiveness you can taste and see. Do you see how much your Jesus loves you? He gives his own body and blood in, with, and under the wine to show you, to give you forgiveness.”
And after worship…. I apologized to the congregation. I told them point blank that the Law needed to cut, but to overwhelm the Gospel, and I fear that this morning I had allowed it to overwhelm.
One man kept insisting that I was fine. Others said I had gone overboard. Honestly, part of the problem is that we’re all at different points, and what “cutting” is and what “overpowering” is are different things to different people with different levels of maturity and struggles.
So I probably didn’t need to apologize. The congregation in general probably saw that as a “Ok, pastor needed to get something off his chest.” And ok. Maybe that was it.
- Get some frigging sleep. Somehow.
- Let the Law speak, but make sure it never overwhelms the Gospel.
- Get some sleep.
And in other news… it’s time for bed. Good night!