the sermon red letter edition

the sermon red letter edition by nakedpastor david hayward
“The Sermon Red Letter Edition” by nakedpastor David Hayward

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The danger of feeling a special sense of privilege when you’re in a position of influence is real and constant. When one has been raised on the bible and “hearing from God” and does this full time and has been preaching for years, the temptation to consider yourself the expert is sometimes subtle but surely strong.

I’ve sat under preaching that is overtly condescending. There’s no discernment necessary. You are being verbally slapped around. But I’ve also sat under preaching that leaves me feeling… I don’t know… kinda… you know… crappy! Sometimes I’m not so quick to catch on. Especially when every one else is, like, “Wow! Wasn’t that an anointed message?” But eventually I always finally read between the lines and see that we were being slapped around this time too, only with velvet gloves.

True story: I visited a church some time ago with a friend. I was a little gun-shy, having freshly left the ministry and the church. My friend wanted me to hear this teacher. So I went. I really enjoyed the message. It was very insightful, full of wisdom, and he was so gracious and gentle and considerate. Never once did I feel myself raring back in my seat, but bending forward to hear more of what he had to share. Because that’s what he was doing: sharing. His whole attitude was, “You know, this is just what I’m thinking about and wrestling with. I wanted to share it with you. If you don’t agree with it then just leave it. That’s okay. Let’s just gather around this thought and explore it together and we’ll take of it what we find helpful.” It was wonderful.

After the service I said to my friend, “I really liked that. Now, he’s the kind of pastor I could hang out with. He’s real, humble, honest and in no way condescending.”

“Oh!” my friend said, “He’s not a pastor. He’s just a lay preacher.”



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  • Carol

    “My good children, a theologian is one who converses with God and not one who studies theology.” – Elder Ephraim of Katounakia

    “It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” ~David Brin

    “Reforming Church governance is not about shared power but about mutual empowerment in the Holy Spirit.” –Fr. Patrick Collins, from his essay on “Thomas Merton on Ecclesial Reform and Renewal” in Commentary.

  • David. I hear you loud and clear. Several years ago, while I was a part of the pastoral team of the church I was attending, I overheard the senior pastor say, “People come here, to hear what the Lord is saying.” My reply was “If people have to come here, to hear what the Lord is saying, then we aren’t doing a very good job, are we.” Needless to say, he wasn’t very pleased with my observation.

  • great observation. typical response. thanks shawn.

  • If the people in the pew were biblically literate, they’d be able to keep the preacher in line, and not let him/her act like they knew everything and the congregation didn’t.

    But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

  • In the last church I attended, I was called upon to preach from time to time and I found it very difficult because the education gap in our church was so wide. There was one particular lady who attended who had been homeless since about the 3rd grade and had stopped attending school at that time. I always tried to preach in a way that she would understand, that the religiously uninitiated would understand, but that would also challenge those in the congregation who had been in church all their lives and who held doctorates. I found that very challenging.

  • I wonder if a good model for the Church, or for churches, to use would be support groups like AA or NA; or maybe interventions staged by friends. What I’m getting at is the atmosphere of humility, genuine concern and love, and sense of togetherness that these types of groups exemplify. Everyone at an AA meeting knows why they’re there, there can be no arrogance (in theory) because they all know that they are all in the same boat of alchoholism. Again, when friends try to intervene for each other, there is (in theory) no sense of superiority or condescention, it is “Hey, we love you, and we see you engaging in this self-destructive behavior; we want to help you, please let us help you.” Of course I’m thinking specifically of destructive behavior; discussions of doctrine wouldn’t fall under this model. Thoughts? Am I totally off?

  • It sounds good Jonathan, only what will be the distinction between destructive behavior and doctrine. Someone often commenting on this blog thinks it is ok to just be rude and call people names in order to correct them, based on Matthew 23, even. Some would think homosexuality and its approval destructive behavior, others consider it very loving… Doctrine and life can’t be sliced apart and it needs to have a foundation.

    If we were clear on doctrine, we would not sit under pastors claiming special insight. If we were clear on doctrine we would not need to be whipped into proper emotionality, holiness or revival thinking.

  • Carol

    The “humility” that is usually (but not always) present in 12-Step Program communities comes from “bottoming-out”, coming to the end of one’s psychological/social resources while experiencing life’s challenges.

    That is not true of most middle class Americans, even in these relatively challenging times. That is why so many of our local churches are nominally religious middle class social clubs.

    I have come to believe that having “too much” can be as dehumanizing to the human spirit as having too little.

    There are two things, Lord,
    I want you to do for me
    before I die:
    Make me absolutely honest
    and don’t let me be too poor
    or too rich.
    Give me just what I need.
    If I have too much to eat,
    I might forget about you;
    if I don’t have enough,
    I might steal
    and disgrace your name. Proverbs 30:7-9

    Of course, “too much” and “too little” are relative concepts since socioeconomic norms vary widely from culture to culture and between the diverse social groupings within each culture.

  • too true; you’re right, we are holistic people in a holistic world living holistic lives and political theory, religion, ethics, behavior, psychology, these and many others are all so inextricably intertwined with each other that it may be better to think of them as different views of the same object rather than distinct objects that are inter-related (using “object” here, of course, metaphorically)

    However it does seem to me that there is a difference in how we should treat behavioral differences which are destructive and doctrinal differences that are matter of opinion or perspective. The problem, as you pointed out, is in telling the difference between the two.

    I think we would all agree that if I had a friend who was interacting with children in inappropriate ways (I don’t, but hypothetically) that I would be remiss to not step in and stop that behavior; we would all also agree that there are minor doctrinal differences that are not only not destructive but can be help us to think about God in new and different ways. Somewhere between those two extremes is a line (probably more of a wide gradient), and I doubt anyone of us knows exactly where that line is or what exactly falls on which side.

    That said, I don’t think that should give us an excuse to stand aside as a fellow church member is gossiped about, or when a colleague is ostracized or bullied, or any other of the plethora of destructive behaviors. We can’t just say “Well, I don’t know, they might be right; who am I to judge?” So, when do we speak up, and when do we stand aside? What do we stand against, and what do we accept as tolerable differences of culture/personality/philosophy etc.? Or is it more a matter of how we speak up, and how we stand aside?

  • So, am I doomed because I’m middle class?

  • Carol

    No, you can make an emotional investment (i.e. love) someone who is developmentally challenged, has a clinical mental illness, addiction, etc.

    I think it is often more painful when “bad things” happen to those we love than when they happen to us.

  • Gary

    I come from a church background Jonathan where any consumption of alcohol is considered “destructive” behavior by the leadership. To me this represents a clear difference of simple opinion, doctrine, or personal conviction. But to my old pastor it is clearly destructive behavior that justifies correction, and I am not talking about drunkenness here. Opinion and/or freedom to one is pure heresy to another. In order for us to ever be able to tell the difference between the two…there must be an irrefutable standard that all agree upon. Since that is impossible in the human experience, it seems to me that Jesus teaching on not judging another is spot on.

    When Jesus gave us the law of love it freed us from the need to live by some specific written code and made our only standard the standard of love. Causing harm to another individual is in clear violation of this standard and our civil penal system is in place to attempt to mitigate the damage caused by those who choose not to adhere to this standard. I myself am willing to intervene to protect another from harm given the opportunity. But it seems to me that anything beyond that is simply meddling in the free will and conscience of others.

  • a few posts ago David enjoined us to stand up against spiritual abuse. First, “there must be an irrefutable standard that all agree upon” obviously not all people, or even all people inside or outside the church would agree on what is and is not spiritual abuse or whether or not it is tolerable or not.

    Second “I myself am willing to intervene to protect another from harm given the opportunity.” how do you define “harm”? Many would see such spiritual abuse and deny that it is harmful; they would say that it’s (in some instances) helpful admonishment. Are we right because we’re more enlightened than they are? Are they right because they’re more spiritual? When we have disagreements like this, how can we tell who is in the right and who is in the wrong?

    I guess what I’m getting at is that the issue isn’t nearly as clear cut as it seems at first; and I think that we, as a group and as a society, need to think deeply and carefully about when we admonish, how we admonish, if we admonish, and how we receive admonishment. It’s an important topic, and I doubt that there are many simple answers.

  • Gary

    Yes I agree that there is no irrefutable standard, which was really the core of my point. As for intervening to protect another from harm I was speaking primarily in the physical sense as in the case of an attacker or abuser. But in the spiritual sense, I have also seen abuses that have lead to great harm in the lives of an individual. The gay issue is one where I will stand against the church in support of this much maligned group of people…many of which have literally been driven to suicide and fallen victim to physical harm or even murder because of such bigotry. I see this as our modern day equivalent to racial intolerance. Do we need to wait for the church to become “enlightened” enough to stand for those who have been so deeply victimized? I think not. And I certainly do not grant the church the title of being “more spiritual”. But these are cases of significant harm…not simply personal preference. This to me is the only distinction that would matter.

  • Does the offender need to understand that their actions are causing harm before there is a need to stand against them? Does the victim need to understand that they are being harmed before we step in?

  • Gary

    Does the offender need to understand? No…not if there are victims involved. I submit the example of Westboro Baptist Church. Clearly through some gross perversion of Christ’s teaching they believe they are doing good. Still…I would gladly stand in a line to prevent them access to any grieving family in my area.

    Does the victim need to understand? Interesting question which is not so easy to answer. Some cults clearly have been able to brainwash their members into believing they are doing the right thing by abandoning their family and all friends who would question the cult’s teaching. Few would argue that the harm done by such brainwashing is anything but harmful to the victims caught up in them.

    In the end the only standard we have is love. Jesus loved unquestionably and completely without bias…yet He intervened when people were being victimized. We cannot follow Christ’s teaching with perfection or without any bias. Yet surely He set a standard we should attempt to emulate yes?

  • I’m a youth pastor (Director of Youth Ministry) but I’ve never been to seminary and I preach probably once a month or so to a congregation of teens and adults during a youth-led worship service. The youth also preach and it provides an interesting change of pace from hearing a seminary-trained and educated pastor. These youth share and engage in relationship with those present, not to necessarily teach, but to – as you so wisely pointed out – share what they feel and know in their hearts are ways in which God and Christ work through them and around them. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing someone who’s been touched by the spirit not only share their experience, but *want* to share their experience.

  • Carol

    As I read the Gospels I am struck by the inconsistancy of Jesus in his use of the Law. Sometimes he applies it, and sometimes he ignores it and it isn’t just the “ceremonial” laws that he ignores either. The Law commanded that adulterers, both the male and female parties, be stoned to death. In his pardoning of the woman “caught” in adultery [which meant her male partner was “caught” also, but given a patriarchal “pass” since “boys will be boys”], he ignored the “penalty” but still commanded her to “sin no more.” Engaging in adultery in a society where adulterers are punished by death is big time risky behavior and should be discouraged out of love for the would-be adulterer, not just the betrayed spouse. Adultery is definitely a “sin against love” from the perspective of the spousal partner, even when the adulterer feels it is an act of love. And yet, the “innocent” party is often not completely innocent since little “sins against love” can increase the temptation to seek love elsewhere.
    The Law is a good guide as a general principle; but when it is universally applied without consideration of the relational context it becomes dehumanizing.

    “No general principle can decide each concrete case; always secondary principles and special circumstances enter into consideration.” –David Spitz, The New Conservatives

    The Law of Love transcends and surpassingly fulfills all other laws. Justice often demands mercy.

    “The Law was made for man, not man for the Law.” ~Jesus of Nazareth

  • I really like the points you bring up Carol; t feels like Jesusis saying to us “It’s not about the law; it’s notabout being ‘right,’ it’s about love; it’s about making peace whatever that means and whatever that looks like in any given situation.”

    I also think that your examle of adultery is good in this discussion; it’s a behavior in which it can be hard to distinguish who is right and who is wrong, where is the most harm being done. I think that what these and Gary’s examples show us is our own need for humiliy when we percieve that someone is engagingn destructive behavior. We do need to stand up and do our best to prevent harm accordin to our wn understanding of what is harmful; but we must do so in love, with grace, and n humilty. On the other end, when we are amonished, we shouldn’t get defensive about it, but recognize that we ourselves might be wrong about our own behavior; we might be doing something that is causing harm without realizing it . Again, love for the victim, grace for the victimizer, all under the blanket of humility. We must hold Mat 7:3 and Gal 6:1-2 together. (BTW,my keyboard is a piece of crap, so please forgive any charcater omissions)