ChatGP Tries to Preach Lutheran Sermons

ChatGP Tries to Preach Lutheran Sermons March 15, 2023

Yesterday I posted about ChatGPT, the super-sophisticated artificial intelligence-driven chatbot that Henry Kissinger thinks “will redefine human knowledge, accelerate changes in the fabric of our reality, and reorganize politics and society.”

So, as I said I would, I signed up for ChatGPT, which you can do here, and put it through its paces.  I read about a rabbi who gave a sermon generated by the technology and then learned of other clergy who are doing it.  I told the friendly machine to “Write a Lutheran Sermon for Next Sunday.”

Unlike the rabbi, I made the assignment deliberately vague, wanting to see what the wisdom of the internet would come up with.  With the caution that ChatGPT is not called and ordained, so is not authorized to preach, and that we Missouri Synod Lutherans are not in pulpit or altar fellowship with the internet, so that none of you pastors should actually use this, here is the sermon:

Grace and peace to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, I would like to talk about the importance of faith in our lives as Christians. Faith is at the core of our beliefs as Lutherans, and it is through faith that we are saved by God’s grace.

Faith is not simply an intellectual acceptance of certain beliefs. Rather, it is a trust and reliance on God and His promises. It is a deep-seated conviction that God is who He says He is, and that He will do what He has promised to do. Faith allows us to see beyond the limitations of our own understanding and to trust in God’s wisdom and goodness.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of the healing of the blind man. The man had faith that Jesus could heal him, and Jesus honored that faith by restoring his sight. But the Pharisees, who lacked faith, refused to believe that Jesus could perform such a miracle. They were blinded by their own skepticism and self-righteousness, and they missed the opportunity to witness the power of God’s love.

We too can be like the Pharisees, allowing our doubts and fears to blind us to the truth of God’s love and grace. But if we put our faith in God, we will be able to see beyond our own limitations and experience the fullness of God’s love and grace in our lives.

So, let us embrace the gift of faith that God has given us, and let us trust in His promises with all our hearts. Let us be like the blind man, who trusted in Jesus and received the gift of sight. And let us be a witness to others of the power of God’s love and grace that is available to all who put their faith in Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wanted to see if the chatbot would recognize the church year and the lectionary.  I did this exercise last Friday, so “next Sunday” would be the Third Sunday of Lent.  None of the lectionary readings–neither the One Year version, or the Three Year, Series A, B, or C–involve the healing of the blind man, nor is there any mention of Lent.

The chatbot knows that Lutherans put a lot of emphasis on faith, so here it is.  There is no “law and gospel” and no reference to the sacraments.  Nor is there any mention of the Cross; that is to say, what we must put our faith in, namely, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is so generic.  Since ChatGBT draws on the whole internet, there are probably more liberal Lutheran sermons posted online than confessional ones.

So I tried again with a more pointed request:  “Write a Law and Gospel sermon for a Missouri Synod congregation for next Sunday.”  Here is the result:

Grace and peace to you all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today, I want to talk about the importance of understanding the distinction between Law and Gospel. In the Bible, the Law refers to God’s commands and expectations for our behavior, while the Gospel refers to the good news of God’s grace and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we often hear about the importance of following God’s commands and living a holy life. And while it is certainly important to strive for righteousness and obedience, we must also remember that we are all sinners and fall short of God’s standards. That is where the Gospel comes in – it reminds us that salvation is not something we can earn or achieve through our own efforts, but rather a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. The younger son had squandered his inheritance and lived a life of sin, but when he returned to his father, the father welcomed him back with open arms and threw a great feast to celebrate his return. This story is a powerful reminder of God’s grace and mercy, even for the most undeserving sinners.

But we must also remember that the Law has a role to play in our lives. It shows us our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. Without the Law, we would not understand the depth of our sin and the greatness of God’s mercy. The Law serves as a mirror, reflecting back to us our own brokenness and need for redemption.

So let us remember the distinction between Law and Gospel. Let us strive to live obedient lives, following God’s commands to the best of our ability. But let us also remember that our salvation is not based on our own merit, but on God’s grace alone. Let us never forget the amazing gift of salvation that God has given us through faith in Jesus Christ.

May we always seek to grow in our understanding of God’s Word and His plan for our lives, and may we live in the freedom and joy of His grace.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This time next Sunday’s reading is a different text not in the lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent.  ChatGBT just picked a Bible passage in both cases.  I wonder what governed that.  Here we have a Wikipedia-style definition of what the distinction between Law and Gospel is, but not the kind of application you get in a genuine sermon, in which the pastor would typically scare us to death by showing us how we too are prodigal and wallowing in our filth, then filling us with relief by showing how our Father extends to us His unmerited grace.
But, again, there is no Cross in this sermon.  And notice how ChatGPT gets the order wrong, speaking of the Law after he speaks of the Gospel (“But let us also remember that the Law has a place in our lives”).

I don’t see any direct reference to any particular Missouri Synod distinctive.  Perhaps the part about “growing in our understanding of God’s Word.”  But nothing about the Word as a means of grace.  And still, nothing about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper.

And it’s all pitched as a mental exercise (“the importance of understanding,” “it reminds us,” “a powerful reminder,” “so let us remember,” “let us also remember,” “let us never forget,” “may we always seek to grow in our understanding”) rather than as a personal encounter with God’s Word.

The chatbot does approximate the form of many Lutheran sermons, which it must have picked up from the untold numbers posted online:  beginning with “Grace and Peace.” It ends with a Trinitarian invocation.  But Missouri Synod sermons, according to the Lutheran Service Book, end with a blessing:  “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

I was also struck by the shortness of these computer-generated sermons.  I purposefully did not specify what length they should be.  The rabbi asked for a 1000 word sermon.  These are just 322 words and 382 words, respectively.  I don’t know of any sermons of any tradition that are this short.

I know the technology will get better, but I don’t think you pastors need to worry about being replaced by a machine.


Image by mikemacmarketing, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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