Tag Archives: sermon

Like Reading a Seven-course Meal

as kingfishersOver the last year or two I’ve come to appreciate the pastoral wisdom of Eugene Peterson. Previously I had known him as the writer of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language but I didn’t know that he was first and foremost a pastor. He was the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland and lead the church for 29 years.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God is a book that is directly birthed out of Peterson’s pastoral experience. In fact, the book is built around 49 of Peterson’s sermons, preached to his church. The book reaches to dramatic heights and delves into phenomenal depths. Peterson’s words show the richness of scripture while making them accessible and able to be brought into the sermons of pastors today.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons grouped into seven sections. Each section is introduced by Peterson to invite the reader into the conversation of what it means to preach in the “company” of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul and John. By “company” Peterson means for the reader to “enter into the biblical company of prototypical preachers and work out of the traditions they had developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (xxi). Peterson achieves this goal beautifully; he speaks of story telling, praying and poetry, allowing our imaginations to be “Jesus-filled,” and preaching theologically.

There is so much good in this book that it is hard to pick just one example- but I’ll do just that. In the introduction to “Preaching in the Company of Isaiah,” Peterson says this: “The unrelenting reality is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life. For a people who are accustomed to fitting God into our lives or, as we like to say, ‘making room for God,’ the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of whom the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into God” (116). This is such a profound and needed flip that we must do-especially within our Western culture. God cannot be something I just add into my life. As if we can add God to the plate of our already full lives. We must flip our understanding to see that we fit into God. We join God. We are found in God. We become a part of what God is doing. Peterson points out such an important point in this short paragraph- and that is just one example.

This is one of the books I will continually reference and quote within my own sermons and sermon preparation. When this book is released on May 16, 2017, it needs to be on your list to buy, read and reflect upon.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review. Find more information on the book here.

Or watch this extremely interesting short-film featuring Eugene Peterson and Bono talking together about Psalms.

What Do You Do After Hearing a Really Bad Sermon?

sad-jesus_c_44_flippedThere comes a time in the life of every church goer when one is confronted with certainty of hearing a bad sermon- perhaps even a really bad sermon. What makes a bad sermon? It could be poor preparation. It could be poor delivery. It could be a poor topic (an exegesis of Numbers chapter 1, for example). All of those could be a result of a pastor having a off week and when a pastor is preaching 40+ times each year, those are naturally bound to happen.

However, what is harder to excuse is a poor theological sermon. It is harder to define what makes a poor theological sermon. I, as much as anybody, like to think and teach outside the box, theologically speaking, and try to get people to think about God in ways that they, perhaps, haven’t before. So what’s the difference between pushing people’s currently held theology and preaching poor theology?

The answer cannot be based purely on feelings or on what has been “traditional” theology; remember Jesus was accused of preaching heresy because what he taught didn’t “feel right” to the religious establishment and didn’t match their traditional views. I think one answer is to look at the conclusions of the theology being proposed.

Recently, I heard a sermon about discovering the will of God and the preacher’s points weren’t about God, they were about what we could do: “we can know God’s will if we do A, B, and C.” When we take that train of though to its conclusion then God’s will isn’t about God, it’s about us- and a theology that leaves us greater than God is a poor theology. That’s just one example.

What do church goers do, though, if they hear a sermon (or a small group lesson) that is bad, theologically speaking? Should they point it out to the pastor or teacher? Should they just let it go? Does it depend on who heard it- a small congregation versus a mega-church or a church with a television broadcast?

At this point, I think we need to take note of Paul and ask how it applies in our current contexts. When Paul wrote his letters to the churches, who were the people that he “called out” to discipline? One group were the Judaizers- those who were teaching heresy. The second group where those inside the church that living immorally or proclaiming false teachings. Paul doesn’t condemn pagans for living like pagans but he does hold the believers in the church responsible for the message they have received.

How do we take that and apply it to churches in 2013? I don’t know the answer to that question.  However, I feel I can safely say that if Christianity is going to have a renewed influence in society, we need to rediscover a way to correct bad theology but more important than that, we need to tell church congregations and small groups that it is good, even necessary, to think critically about what is taught, consider the conclusions and speak up if there is internal (or external) conflict or tension about what was taught. Only God knows all truth (no pastor does and no small group teacher does) and if we believe in the priesthood of every believer than it is every believers’ duty contribute to the collective knowledge and experience of the Christian community- and sometimes that means speaking up after one hears a really bad sermon.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013