Sermon Illustrations on relevance
Creating Christian Consumers
I’ve served on staff at a few different churches throughout Silicon Valley for the last decade and a half, including a medium-sized church, a young church plant, and a multisite megachurch. At each, we felt the strong temptation of the digital age—the temptation to pursue relevance at any cost.
We found ourselves spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to create spaces that looked, sounded, and felt like whatever we thought was most relatable to popular culture at large. Ultimately, though, we discovered that any sort of sustained emphasis on relevance invariably led to satisfied Christian consumers who’d found a product they enjoyed, but rarely led to anything deeper.
The most transformative experiences people were having in our communities, we slowly realized, had nothing to do with the lights, sound, and spectacle. Transformation was happening in much more tactile ways—through personal relationships and the profound simplicity of studying Scripture, praying, and sharing meals together.
Taken from Analog Church by Jay Y. Kim Copyright (c) 2020 by Jay Y. Kim. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Entering a Counter-Intuitive Story
[T]he liturgy helps us enter a counter-intuitive story. In an individualistic culture, the liturgy helps us live a communal life. In a culture that values spontaneity, the liturgy grounds us in something enduring. In a culture that assumes that truth is a product of the mind, the liturgy helps us experience truth in both mind and body. In a world demanding instant relevance, the liturgy gives us the patience to live into a relevance that the world does not know. Its counter-intuitive nature makes the liturgy appear culturally strange at first, but in fact it’s more like an intriguing story, full of mystery, that not only attracts but reshapes our perceptions and our lives.
A caution. The liturgy is not a magic potion or carpet ride.
The dreariest services I’ve been to have been liturgical services.
And the spiritually deadest churches I’ve attended have been rich in liturgy.
…But there is a reason the liturgy has continued to be the staple of the bulk of Christendom: it remains a powerful context in which to be transformed by God. Still, it should not surprise us that the liturgy is also one of the best places to hide from God.
The Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve enjoyed the goodness of God and hid from his presence. Yet if we will refuse to hide within the ritual, it can work on us and in us to transform us. I believe—and it has been my experience—that ongoing participation in the liturgy is ongoing participation in the life of God and, as such, will lead, as C.S. Lewis envisions human transformation, to a life “dazzling, radiant…pulsating all through with . . . energy, joy, and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine.”
Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder & Power of Christian Liturgy, Paraclete Press, 2009.
A Christian Approach to Suffering
In the summer of 2012, I knelt over the frail shell of a child, my son, strapped to all manner of medical monitoring equipment. His body failing, his frame thinning, the medical staff at Arkansas Children’s Hospital was at a loss. They had no answers, no direction. He was an anomaly, they said, and they’d need to regroup after making him as comfortable as possible. Though the medical community struggled to sort it all out, my faith community seemed to have every answer.
God would provide, one said, because God would respond to my great faith. God was setting up a miracle, another said. God works all things together for good, I was reminded. Platitude, platitude, platitude. I smiled through all of them, even nodded. Silently I wondered, Did all those words amount to anything, well-meaning though they were? Hunched over my son, all those platitudes haunting, my phone rang.
I looked at the screen, read the name. It was a pastor from a more reformed church in my hometown, and as I answered the phone, I wondered what platitude I might hear. There was a purpose in my son’s suffering? Everything has a Kingdom purpose? After an exchange of greetings, I clenched my jaw. Stiffened. Braced myself.
Through the phone, I heard only three words: “I’m so sorry.” There was a pause, and he told me to holler if I needed anything. He said he’d be praying, and that was that. It was a moment of selfless solidarity, a moment in which this man of the cloth didn’t force-feed me anemic answers or sell me some fix-all version of a bright-and-shiny gospel.
Instead, he did the work of Christ himself; he entered into my suffering. And years later, after a long season of healing (both my son’s and my own), his words served as a reminder of the Christian response to suffering—we enter into it together, share in it together, lament with each other.
I suppose it’s natural, our tendency to try to run from suffering, to somehow try to drag other folks from their own. We Christians use the holy tools at our disposal (particularly, the misinterpretation of Scripture) in an attempt to pave a path around suffering. The problem is that’s not the way of Christ. Christ—God with us—entered into the suffering of humanity. He lamented with those who lamented, extended compassion and healing to the hurting. Ultimately, he took on the existential suffering of all mankind as he endured his own suffering on the cross.
Alia Joy, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, Baker Books, 2019.
Staying in our Christian Bubbles
I was in London browsing one of the ubiquitous British tabloids and an advertisement for a new health club grabbed my attention. The picture was of a magnificent gothic church sanctuary that had been turned into the swimming pool of the new spa. It was a telling image of the continuing demise of the Anglican Church in a city where more people attend a mosque than the Church of England on any given weekend.
Or consider the church building, one block off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, that is now a nightclub and lounge.
To add insult to injury, the club is called Sin, and the logo that has replaced the stained-glass window is a fallen angel descending from the heights of heaven. The decline of the Christian movement in the West is well documented and unsurprising to honest observers. Unfortunately, many of us are like the proverbial frog in the kettle.
We remain in our religious bubbles, oblivious to the rapidity of change around us until it is too late. But the point is that without a restoration of apostolic function and the necessary apostolic structures, I believe there is little hope that the Christian movement will ever regain the initiative in the West.
Until we understand, legitimize and embrace the essentiality of such apostolic gifting and structures, and free them from the limitations imposed by well-meaning local churches, local church leaders and denominational authorities, we will never be able to overcome the perceptions of irrelevance and marginalization that confront the good news of Jesus in the Western world.
Taken from Beyond the Local Church by Sam Metcalf Copyright (c) 2015 by Sam Metcalf. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
No Native Country
The Gospel as such has no native country. He who goes out humbly with Christ in the world of all races will perpetually discover the multiple, but constant, relevance of what he takes. It takes a whole world to understand a whole Christ. . . . Those who take are not vulgarly universalizing their own culture: they are conveying that by the apprehension of which both they and their hearers learn. If the claims of the Gospel are valid it could not be otherwise.
Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, Oxford University Press.
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