This past Sunday was the first time I’ve been in worship at our local church in some time, and it was a wonderful service. The liturgy was inspiring, the praise music was impassioned, and the sermon was also quite excellent.
But there was one takeaway that I thought was particularly instructive for those of us who preach on a regular basis.
The pastor was preaching on The Lord’s Prayer in general, but he focused primarily on on Jesus’ condemnation of hypocritical public “pray-ers” in verses 1 and 5. That is, those who habitually prayed in public because it was a cultural mark of a “good person” to do this, and many did it not to connect with God but in order to gain approval from their society.
What was interesting to me was the interpretive move he made with this text. Instead of encouraging us not to pray in public as the text mentions, this pastor did something that was both bold and challenging: he asked how this text relates to us in a culture where loudly praying on a street corner is not really something that is still seen as good. Instead of doing this, he asked the deeper question, what is the heart condition that lead to Jesus’ strong rebuke of those he is speaking to?
And that answer was able to then open up an honest conversation about authenticity and spiritual disciplines, which looks very different today than it would have in Jesus’ time.
This is the hard interpretive work with which a pastor is called, to preach “between two worlds,” (the biblical world and our world) as John Stott once said in his book on preaching.
There are too many bland and boring sermons out there that are not willing to go the extra mile to ask how the context of the passage relates to our context. If we want to experience a vitality in our preaching, we must be willing to go to that next level of contextual understanding, asking how the biblical world and our world relate to one another. That is where a fresh expression of the gospel can take root in our preaching and lead to heart change and spiritual transformation. Many of you are of course, already doing this. But here is a little nudge to continue fighting the good fight, to go deeper and more nuanced into the heart of scripture.
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