Sunday, June 7, 2009

Preaching to the Choir (and Everybody Else)

The Holy Trinity
First Sunday after Pentecost
June 7, 2009
John 3.1-17

One thing you’re not supposed to do when you’re preaching is to tell how you came up with the sermon, you just preach it. But you know what’s coming, don’t you? I came up with the idea for this sermon two Sundays ago, about twenty minutes before the worship service. Someone was telling me about a Lutheran church that has decided to skip a day of worship and go out and help people instead.

Another thing you’re not supposed to do is think of an idea for a sermon and then fit it into the Scripture passage you’re using. But as you can see, I felt compelled to address this situation long before I sat down to prepare for this sermon. However, I already knew it would be Trinity Sunday and had a pretty good guess that John 3 would be the Gospel reading, so I did have a pretty good idea already of how it would fit.

Yet a third thing you’re not supposed to do is preach to the choir. Preaching to the choir goes something like this: Murder is wrong. You are committing great evil when you unlawfully take the life of another person. When you preach this way the people of God sitting in the pews rightfully disdain those who would do such a thing. The problem, however, is that most Christians haven’t done this and have no intention of doing it, so they also quietly congratulate themselves for not doing such a horrible thing. Preaching goes to the heart of the matter to the people being preached to. When it comes to murder, all are guilty. Every one of us has harmed others in our actions and our thoughts. The one who murders a doctor who aborts babies is every much of a murderer as the abortion doctor. Likewise, the one who hates or wishes ill upon that abortion doctor has sinned against God’s fifth commandment even as the abortion doctor has. Preaching is for sinners. Preaching to the choir is not really preaching.

So if I stand here and rail against that church that decides to skip out on worship, I’m simply preaching to the choir. You’ll agree with me that they should be in worship as you are, and you’ll be feeling really good about yourself that you’re here.

So what can we say about this? It makes no sense for me to tell you that you should be here, you’re here. But it’s also true that if your living out of your Christian life consists of being here in the House of God but you’re also not out there helping others and sharing the Gospel, then there’s really not much to your Christian life.

Well, if you were to decide that today would be a good day to skip out on church because it’s just as important to help others, what you’d be missing out on is the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Now, would this cause you to lose your salvation? No. Would it make a deep impact, negatively, on your faith? Not necessarily. Is it essential as a Christian to celebrate Trinity Sunday? Certainly not.

But what you would be missing out on is God helping you. Notice I didn’t say you’d miss out on how God wants to help you, but on His actual helping you. And you know what happens when God helps you? You help others out. There is something tragic about pitting worship and serving others against each other.

One of my professors pointed out that Trinity Sunday is the only festival in the Church Year that observes a doctrine, not an event—and, if you’re going to do that, then shouldn’t the doctrine you celebrate be the doctrine of Justification, the chief doctrine of Christianity? But at the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity is justification. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstract theological concept—it’s the teaching that God is dynamic, living, eternal, incomprehensible, relational, the one true God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three in one and the one in three. The One true God, not three parts of one God and not three distinct Gods, but one holy God in three distinct persons.

The festival of the Holy Trinity is not about God, it’s about who God is and what He does for humanity. Some mistakenly believe that we can chuck worship and go out and meet people where they’re at, meet their needs. The Lutheran church I heard about that was doing this was now the second time I’ve heard of this kind of thing. The first was with a non-Lutheran church who had people at a house over on Eldridge St., so that when our members were driving here to church they saw what was going on. And how did they know that that was what was going on? Because they were wearing shirts that said: “Don’t go to church, be the church.”

But I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I? You’re the ones who are here, aren’t you? You’re not skipping church for the good cause of helping people. So why am I preaching to the choir? Because that’s who needs to be preached to. And there’s another group of people that needs to be preached to, and you can see from the title of the sermon who it is: everybody else.

I will not for a minute discount the intentions of those who say, We can’t just go to church, we need to be the Church. Their intentions obviously are good. But the real question is not, Which one do you do? The real question is, How do you do both? The way you do both is by being here. Here is where what happens that needs to happen for you to go out and serve and help others. If you are not served and helped by God, what will you be able to offer others?

When Jesus was preaching to Nicodemus He wasn’t preaching to the choir, He was preaching to Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a faithful believer in God. But what did he need? He needed to be born from above. He needed God. He needed Jesus. He needed the Holy Spirit to bring him new life in the waters of Baptism.

God the Father loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son to die on the cross for the sin of the world so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. This is who God is. This is how He works. He gives Himself. He serves. He forgives. He gives new life. He does this because we need it. Not just those people out there. Us. You and me. We need it. We may be the choir but it’s the choir that needs to be preached to.

And yes, there’s everybody else. All those people out there. They need it to. So, yes, we do need to get out there and help, and serve, and bring the Gospel to everybody out there. Not instead of, but because we have been served by our Lord. Because He has washed us with the waters of renewal and regeneration. Because He has fed us with the very Body and Blood of Christ in His Holy Supper. Without these, we have no forgiveness, and therefore, nothing to bring people.

Oh, we could help them. But don’t we want to give them what they really need? We want to give them Christ, just as our Heavenly Father gave Him to us. The helping people in their physical needs is a wonderful way to be in their lives, to manifest the love of Christ in a way that they can tangibly experience. This is not just a way to bait them and then start preaching to them as if that’s really all you wanted to give them. Helping others is a natural outgrowth of the eternal help that God gives to us. Why would we not help those who are in need? And in the same way, why would we not share with them the Good News that God loves them in this way, He gives them His only-begotten Son so that they may have eternal life.

Nicodemus was having a hard time letting God do His work in him. How can a man be born when he is already old? We, too, need to let God do His work in us. We need to be in the place where He works in us new life through the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. The new life He accomplishes in us produces in us the desire to serve others. We who have born again need to be sustained in the grace and mercy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Gospel and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. God loves us in this way and by His grace we love others in Him. Amen.


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