Preaching Under Pressure

I was short on time this week; it felt terrible, wrasselling with sermon ideas among the various other obligations of the week, sensing that whatever idea I had needed more breathing room. In the end, I squoze out a homily, but it would have benefited from more time spent burnishing the details. I handwrote the last few sentences in the minutes before the sermon, and in the version I post in today’s extended section I’ve spruced them up a little. I haven’t dug in and reworked the whole thing as much as it needs, I’d say, but I’m taking it easy this weekend.

Charles Palmerstong Anderson Chapel of Seabury-Western
November 10, 2006

Leo of Rome
2 Timothy 1:6-14;Psalm 77:11-15; Matthew 5:13-19

Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost — Amen.

It’s sad. I’ve been asked to review a book, another book, that loudly proclaims the church’s need of a New Reformation — presumably with the author as the new Martin Luther. That should tip any reader off; I can’t count the number of times I’ve read about one or another New Reformation that the church had to undertake. They’re mostly forgotten, now, except in their authors’ press releases, lost in the remainder bins that belie such portentous titles as Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

I’m saddened that people so strongly committed to the gospel should promote so shallow a vision of how that gospel comes to expression. Of course our faith needs to change; even those of you who’ve only spent a few weeks here in Gospel Mission, in Liturgy 1 and Early Church History, should have noticed by now that Christianity is always changing. Sometimes we do better, sometimes not as well, sometimes we try to not change a thing, in an effort to “guard the good treasure entrusted to you” — but even our impulse to protect ourselves from change alters our relation to the culture never stops changing around us. In other words, we aren’t “beset by change,” as the hymn would have it, but neither are we necessarily blessed with change. Change is non-optional. We can’t afford to waste time asking whether Christianity should change; our mission challenges us to consider how we should change, when to change, what we may change.

How, then? Evidently not by throwing away all that’s gone before. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law.” We inherit the church’s Scriptures, the testimony of the saints, the wisdom of the theologians as a treasure, but we aren’t called to bury that treasure away, as the slave in the parable of the talents does. And we certainly don’t squander that treasure on a Las Vegas weekend (knowing that “the treasure you take to Vegas, stays in Vegas”).

Rather, as the epistle advises, we “hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” — we observe the pattern of sound teaching in faith and love — and remember as we venture our well-intentioned innovations, and as we endure other people’s innovations, that in this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus indicates that although not a letter or a stroke of a letter will pass from the Law, yet he does not consign those who relax one of the least of these commandments to the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth — but still allots them a place in the kingdom of heaven.


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