Ten Sermons I’d Like to Hear

Posted on June 4, 2014

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Since more than one third of newspaper readers are Christians, based on the Pew Research Center’s report that 37% of Americans attend church regularly, I thought I’d make a list of sermons I’d like to hear.

“You know,” I told my wife while on our daily four mile walk, “I think it would be interesting to list the Ten Hot Button Issues in Christian churches today.”

She looked at me in horror.

“Don’t do it!”

But, as an American, I retain my freedom of speech (First Amendment and all that), and so here goes.

The Top Ten List includes the following, but is not limited to:

1. Why “Religion” is Bad For You
2. The LGBT Community and Scripture
3. Name It and Claim It
4. Speaking in Tongues, and Other Manifestations of the Holy Spirit
5. The Perils of Popularity
6. Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
7. Why God Heals (or Doesn’t) When You Pray in Faith
8. How Many Baptisms Do We Have?
9. Do We Have a Vindictive or Loving God?
10. Predestination, or Was I Destined to Give This Sermon, or Not?

Those, of course, are just the top ten, and everyone has their own top ten, and mine changed every time I looked at a draft of this column. And, I’m sure the top ten in the 1910, or 1960, or 1776 for that matter would have been different. But I don’t live then. I live now.

One of my points is that we change over time. Our culture and civilization changes over time.

What concerned people in this country in 1765 was different from 1865 (try the end of the Civil War), and 1965 for example, when Women’s Liberation, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War were all demanding our attention. I can envision a sermon preached then on how bra burning was against Scripture, or how the very same act confirmed that Jesus really liked women and wanted them to be free.

As the Civil War drew to a close, for example, a hot issue among Southerners was “why did we lose, and so catastrophically at that?” Whose side was God on in this immense internecine conflict that still casts shadows on our world today?

Southerners, so my friend and colleague George Rable noted in his magisterial history of religion in the Civil War, turned to the Old Testament for answers, likening their defeat to the rebukes and corrections inflicted on the ancient Hebrews by God for their iniquities.

The North ascribed their victory to championing the end of slavery and freeing a people. A good sermon might have been entitled something like “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” which is straight from the Battle Hymn of the Republic of course, and–like most of the rest of the Battle Hymn—from Scripture and especially the Book of Revelations.

The sermon might have played well in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but probably not in Richmond, Virginia.

Every age has to contend with the fact that while Scripture does not change, the customs, habits, and culture of a civilization do change.

The tough question—which led me to my Ten Sermon titles above—is how do we interpret Scripture when we have grown so complicated, so complex, so sophisticated (we think), so modern, so scientific, so in-charge-of-it-all. Scripture seems, by contrast, static, antique, boring and old fashioned, and not relevant at all to the world we live in.

As the world tries to adapt Scripture to fit its own needs, the result is what theologians and scholars call the “cultural captivity” of the Bible; or, how we adopt Biblical principles and rules and laws to our times.

Or, put another way, each different culture—of let’s say the Roman Empire, or medieval Europe, or of the Enlightenment—reads and interprets Scripture to suit its fashions.

My good friends in the ministry are challenged to take the unchanging nature of Scripture and make it applicable in our society. The more secular a society becomes, the harder the task to accommodate Scripture to prevailing values on such issues as homosexuality, abortion, marriage, sin, healing, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, wealth, and on down to the very organization of the Church.

What is comforting is the unchanging nature of Scripture.

Next time your pastor, priest, minister, or cleric preaches, ask yourself: is s/he aligned with Scripture? It’s a great way to get you on the learning curve all Christians need to be on.

And, having ended a sentence with a preposition, and so demonstrated not only my freedom of speech, but also my liberty in grammar, I wish you all a splendid Sunday, a day off of work (for most of us), courtesy of your friendly Christian community.

 

Published in my column, The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News as Ten Sermons I’d Like to Hear on Sunday June 1, 2014.