Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules?Colossians 2:20
For me and Rebekah, one impact of COVID has been how often we visit restaurants. We have always had a modest eating out budget, but now we seldom worry we may have blown it up (other than our visit to the amazing Poole’s Diner in downtown Raleigh!).
Another plus is that, when we do dine out, the experience is more special because it has not been overplayed. Such was the case Friday night at P.F. Chang’s, an occasion made even better by the presence of old friends. Good food and good conversation always equals a memorable evening.
The Offensive Jesus:
Jesus said, “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”
Their mouths hung open, speechless.Mark 12:17
One particular segment of the conversation grabbed my interest, and I’m going to try to represent it accurately here because it touched on a very important idea that is – I believe – of critical importance to this blog’s ongoing concern with our public witness to faith.
First, though, let me introduce the participants:
- John, a retired Presbyterian minister, who was in most people’s judgement one of the finest preachers in Rebekah’s MDiv class at Columbia. John came to ministry with a philosophy PhD and teaching experience already in hand. He served churches in Sarasota, then St. Augustine.
- Grady, also a respected voice in the pulpit, retired from Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines. His ministry took him to Miami in Florida, then Selma, Alabama, before North Carolina.
- Then Rebekah, who likely needs no introduction to my readers. She retired this summer after 40 years of ministry, preaching at dynamic congregations in Pensacola, Tampa, then Wake Forest.
- Rounding out the table were Peggy and Linda – John and Grady’s wives, along with yours truly.
At one point the conversation turned to preaching, and what ministers hope to achieve from the pulpit.
What John said:
JOHN is of the opinion that very few preachers have the courage (guts, moxie, heart, fearlessness…) to preach “prophetically.” What he said – essentially – is that sermons are too often watered down because preachers are afraid of offending people, and of losing them as church members.
John owns some strong views regarding politics, and he feels that if preachers fail to come down on one side or another in political debates – even if it means being partisan – then what’s the point of the pulpit?
What Rebekah said:
REBEKAH – and I stand with her on this – agrees with John on the important idea that preaching must be provocative, that it must point people to the truth, and that it must be uninhibited when it comes to calling out evil.
However – and this has been largely true in my writing too, especially when I was a newspaper columnist – preaching Jesus does not need any help when it comes to challenging, and instructing, and provoking, and offending people! The added step of casting aspersions at particular candidates and political parties is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.
Hence the tension in the conversation.
Where does Jesus stand?
“Here’s a great example,” Rebekah offered. “Someone angrily complained they would be leaving our church because I kept ‘preaching against _______ (insert politician’s name here)…’ Fact is, I never once used the politician’s name. Many wonderful people in our church vote for him in good conscience. I seldom preach ‘against’ anything when it is more effective to turn people’s attention ‘toward’ Jesus.”
The politician in question was/is so obviously at odds with the peace, love, mercy, light, grace, kindness, hope, promise, and redemption of Jesus it could easily sound as if Rebekah’s messages must be against him. But they were not; they were/are for following Jesus.
The problem of making sermons more overtly political is that in doing so we would be feeding in to the oppositional, binary, confrontational spirit of our time. Additionally – and this is something I pointed out – what could be the benefit of having the people we want to reach leave the conversation? Is it not better to preach the gospel (a message we all purportedly have in common) with integrity, and let the Holy Spirit do the convicting?
Rebekah and I both want people to meet Jesus, to follow Jesus, and to find their way back to God. Our job is to invite people into a relationship with the one who can change their hearts and minds!
Studies consistently confirm the fact that when someone feels their view is threatened, or strongly opposed, even when they are given concrete evidence that they are wrong, they tend to dig in, retrench, become more convicted in their falsehood, and push back with more vigor.
If, however, we listen to one another, emphasize what we have in common, and remain convincing in our assertion that we pretty much want the same thing, then purposeful and beneficial change is more likely.
In my view: reconciliation is more compelling than reproach, disarming is more useful than damning, listening is more productive than lecturing, engagement facilitates more change than enmity, dialog is more powerful than diatribe, gospel is more persuasive than gas, and humility is a more effective tool than hubris.
Our friend John is right, we must constantly engage people with the liberating, provocative, life-changing, confrontational truth; the teachings of Jesus are radically charged with transformational light and love.
I want to be in that conversation with you. Not your politics but your soul. Who knows, maybe we will both change…? – DEREK