Christ Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Knowing Worship - Sermons

Knowing Worship: Sermons
By Pastor Andrew Belt

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  2 Timothy 4:1-2

Why do Pastors preach?

Have you ever asked that question?  Preaching is a very odd thing.  In fact, it carries a negative connotation in our day.  “Don’t preach to me!” is the phrase in vogue.  “Acta Non Verba” (Action not Words) goes the Latin phrase.  Therefore, a pastor preaching will not find much reward or congrats in preaching.   But honestly, that is okay.  Pastors don’t preach to have the world smile and adore them.  

We preach because that is our Lord’s command and promise.   Part of the job that a Pastor must accept as a preacher is that preaching may fall on deaf or hostile ears, though that thought is one of the more painful parts of being a pastor.  God tells Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel that their preaching will be in vain, but to do it anyway.

Of course, Christ also goes about preaching.  “Everyone is looking for you!” Mark 1:37. Peter tells Jesus that as Jesus had left the crowds to go by himself and pray.  They only see Jesus as a solution to their aches and pains, injuries and diseases.  That is why they are looking for him.  And of course, Christ can’t help himself to heal people, it is who he is.

But he tells Peter and the rest of his apostles, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I have come.”  God sent Jesus to preach.  You need to hear the Word of the Word made flesh and therefore live.

Jesus came to preach.  Namely, he preaches that, “Stop what you are doing and turn around!  The kingdom of God is now in your midst.”  That is the summary of all of Jesus Christ’s preaching and teaching.  He is bringing God’s royal rule on earth and those who look to Jesus as the King enter God’s reign on earth.

Of course, the crowds and the Pharisees kill him for this claim.  “We have no king but Caesar!”  They reject Christ’s preaching, but the sweet irony of it all is that by crucifying and rejecting Christ, they are establishing his very enthronement as king and the content of Jesus’ preaching!  Of course, God the Father approves of his Son’s preaching and raises him from the dead.  The Father wouldn’t raise a lying preacher.

That is why Paul in the verse at the beginning charges Timothy with.  “I charge you by the kingdom of Christ: Preach the Word.”

Of course, that Apostolic Charge has been passed down through the weakening generations of the Church.  It is that charge that I too received in my ordination, to preach is now why I exist and why God was pleased to wake me this morning, among the other vocations he has given me.

When a Pastor worth his salt preaches, you will note something that is perhaps becoming more subtle the more people become disconnected from the Word, namely, the way the sermon begins:  “Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Most sermons begin that way.  Those words in one way or another are the way that Paul begins each of his letters.

By saying this in our own sermons, Pastors are claiming that the message they preach has the weight of Apostolic Authority.  “Preach the Word” and so we do.  The Apostles are dead.  But their function carries on (and must if the church is to survive!) in the life of the Church through their apostolic writings (The New Testament) and through the living voice of the preacher.  What you should hear in each sermon is the ever-living voice of the Apostles that Christ authorized and sent.  The Apostles still live through their teaching and witness.

So we still need to answer the question I posed above, why do pastors preach?  You know, besides the simple reason that says that preaching is what God himself wants and has charged us with, which is a good enough reason on its own.

From the thoughts so far, we can glean the following about preaching:
  • It is Prophetic. 
  • It Does the Word of God to You. 
  • It condemns sin and your unbelief and creates faith in Christ. 

There is more than that of course, but three is a good number to chew on for now.

First, preaching is prophetic.  What I mean by this is not that it tells the future, that is not what being prophetic means.  Though I do a bit of telling you the future when I say that Jesus Christ will come back in power and glory, raise the dead, judge everyone, restore his creation and for all ages we will dwell with God on earth.  That is a future event and it will happen, so prepare yourselves.    

But rather, to be prophetic is to carry the Word of God from the lips of one person and then to the ears and hearts of another.  It is to speak on behalf of God Himself.  This is no small thing and as a preacher it terrifies me greatly.  “Not all of you should become teachers my brothers, for we know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  James 3:1.  A pastor who is not nervous to preach is a fool.  If you have ever wondered why my hands are cold before a service, it is because I am rather nervous for what I am about to do, which is a good thing.

Revelation 19:10 tells us what being prophetic means, “The witnessing of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  Every sermon should direct you to Christ.  A message should be about Jesus Christ for you, for sinners.  A message that devolves into how you can have your best life now using these great biblical principles is a pep talk, not a sermon.  Advice is good, but that is not what preaching is about and that is not what a Pastor is about.

This leads into the next point nicely, that second, preaching is about doing the text to you.  There is a reason that most pastors will not talk about their preaching as prophetic, because we all know what happened to the prophets, they were murdered or shunned.

Why did this happen to them?  Because the Word of God happened to the people when they heard preaching and they reacted to it.

This is the million-dollar question to preaching and is the trick to every sermon.  How do I, as the preacher, get you to react to Scripture in the ways that Scripture wants you to?  A text that is about repentance is meant to cause you to repent.  A text that is about love is meant to cause you to love.  A text about faith is meant to cause you to place your trust in Christ.

I do not preach to talk about the text, I preach to do the text to you.  That realization in Seminary forever changed how I saw sermons, react to sermons, and even preach sermons myself.

In many ways, I do not control the text, God does and he will do things that I never dream or am trying to attempt.  The Holy Spirit works when and where he pleases, I am but a servant, the mouth piece of God.  Sometimes, or probably often, the Lord God himself will probably work in spite of me!

But one thing that I have noticed about preaching in the modern church is that people will often not react to the text in ways that the text would want.  “We sang a song and you did not dance, we played a dirge and you did not mourn.”  As Jesus would say.  

I have a theory why that sometimes is.  Have you ever watched the show “I Love Lucy?”  Did you ever fret that things in that show would not work out?  Even if Lucy and her husband had an argument, they would always come back together in the end, make up, and everything would be hunky-dory.  This is called a comedic style of writing.  You never worry about what is going to happen because nothing bad will happen.

Romeo and Juliet on the other hand is the opposite.  The lovers end up dead.  That is not how it is supposed to be!  This is tragic!  They were supposed to defy the odds, undo family rivalries, and live happily ever after.  No one likes that ending.  But the shock value is meant to catch our eye, leave the incident seared into our minds, and leave us with something to chew on.  This is called a tragic style of writing.

Preaching can be both comedic and tragic, but perhaps the more effective way to do the text to someone is to do a tragic reading.  Acts 2 is such an example.  There Peter uses the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a threat.  Essentially Peter’s sermon goes like this, “You messed with the wrong guy.”  The guy they messed with is Jesus.  They killed him but now he is alive again.  “What should we do?!?!”  They cry in response to preaching.  Peter then tells them: “Repent and be baptized in order to wash your sins away.”

Of course, it is not the style of preaching that does the job, but the Holy Spirit that creates faith.  That leads into the third and final point of why we preach: The promise of the Holy Spirit.   Without the Holy Spirit the text will not be done and it would not be prophetic.  “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21.

The task of preaching is meant to deliver you the goods of salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Preaching is the doorway that leads you into the kingdom of God because the Holy Spirit works faith through the proclamation of the Church that delivers you to Christ himself.

Before you hear a sermon, pray to God that he would send you the Holy Spirit. “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13 Before each sermon, you will note that I often kneel at the rail to pray.  I pray to God to give me the Holy Spirit to preach and then I pray for all of you who are there that God would give you the Holy Spirit as well in order that you may hear Him who calls you through the Word.

No doubt this is a lot to chew on.  I also hope that it causes you to see preaching anew!  As you can tell, I have a very high view of the Office of Preaching, and you won’t find that in many, if not most, other denominations because of the American development of preaching.  But when you gaze upon the witnesses of the Scriptures, this is seen most clearly.

St. Paul himself famously said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Preaching kick-starts that whole process.  The good news of the triumph of Jesus Christ and of his everlasting kingdom is only given through word of mouth!  Curious.  Of course, how many of you believed because you first read every word from the Bible?  Was it not because you first heard preaching?  Preaching, grounded in the biblical text, is how God accomplishes his purposes.

Preaching is an amazing thing and an amazing gift from God.  May it never be quenched in our hearts and ears and lips.  May God continue to send faithful preachers!  May preachers themselves also be preached to!   As the hymn in LSB #682, “God of the Prophets, Bless the Prophets’ Sons” goes and wraps up all these themes so nicely:

God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons
Elijah’s mantle over Elisha cast
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one nobler, stronger than the last.  
Anoint them prophets, men who are intent
to be Your witnesses in word and deed,
their hearts aflame, their lips made eloquent,
Their eyes awake to every human need.
Anoint them priests, strong intercessors they,
for pardon and for love and hope and peace,
that, through their pleading, guilty sinners may
Find Jesus’ mercy and from sin release.

Anoint them kings, yes, kingly kings O Lord.  
Anoint them with the Spirit of Your Son.
Theirs not a jeweled crown, a blood stain sword;
Theirs by sweet love, for Christ a kingdom won.
Make them apostles, heralds of Your cross;
forth let them go to tell the world of grace.
Inspired by You, may they count all but loss
and stand at last with joy before Your face.