Sometimes it's instructive to research the definition of a word and then measure that explanation against reality as experienced in real life. This is especially interesting when the word is faith-related. I've noticed that dictionary definitions tend to fall far short of the mark regarding the transformational nature of living faith.
The word "sermon" is a great example. I sat down at my computer this morning intending to post a blog about my experience in church yesterday, so I looked up the word "sermon" in several dictionaries. This is what I found:
ser·mon [sur-muhn] –noun
- A discourse for the purpose of religious instruction or exhortation, esp. one based on a text of Scripture and delivered by a member of the clergy as part of a religious service.
- Any serious speech, discourse, or exhortation, esp. on a moral issue.
- A religious discourse delivered as part of a church service. An often lengthy and tedious speech of reproof or exhortation.
- An oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, or religious topic, usually expounding on a type of belief or law within both past and present contexts.
I especially chuckled at the phrase "lengthy and tedious speech." Tedious is the last thing you're going to encounter at First Presbyterian of Brandon! And yesterday was a great example of that. I've seldom felt the congregation so attentive. In fact, the word to describe the feel in the sanctuary was almost "rapt" (- adjective: deeply engrossed or absorbed). We laughed, we teared up, we grew silent and still, we even gasped
The Great Commission: Rebekah preached - with great enthusiasm - about what it means to be a Matthew 28 kind of a Christian. Matthew 28 contains what's known as "The Great Commission." It goes like this:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Rebekah talked about the danger of getting caught up in numbers - as if it's possible to quantify our response to Christ's words. She questioned the basic assumptions we own about what it means to be a church. She even took a jab at the generally accepted wisdom (touted at times by yours truly) that the best measure of a "successful" ministry is percentage of involvement, the ideal of having 80% or more actively involved in mission and ministry.
Rebekah said that "making sure more church members are busy" can still too easily mask a lack of depth, growth, focus and even commitment.
Comparison games: She talked about the popular pastime of playing comparison games vis-a-vis congregations with thousands in attendance, lavish facilities, full-service gyms, choirs that travel the world, etc. etc. etc. "But we're not Southern Baptist," she said; "we're not Methodists, and we're not Catholic... We're part of the Presbyterian Church (USA)."
It turns out, she said, that we're actually a really large church as compared to the average Presbyterian congregation... "If, however, we're merely interested in numbers."
Then, and this is the reason I've included so much of Rebekah in this blog, she got everyone holding their breath and sitting on the edge of their seats when she went on to say that we're not called to be Baptists, or Methodists, or Catholics; and... "We're not necessarily - and this is one that could get me into trouble if it were taken out of context - even called to be Presbyterians." - GASP! - "What we're called to be is faithful disciples of Jesus." - AMENs came from several areas of the sanctuary!
"And," she added, "we're called to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the context of being a Presbyterian congregation." Saying that wasn't an escape clause, but a vitally important fact that informs the way we worship, and practice our faith, and witness to the life-changing power of the Gospel in this community.
What's the point? And what is the point, she asked, of gathering together in church if it's just to hear a message we're guaranteed to agree with, to pat ourselves on the back, and to never feel the need or the challenge to change or to grow?
Personally, I feel as if I am a different person, a more engaged believer, and a more faithful pilgrim - making progress - today than I was, say, at the beginning of 2010. I believe I am closer to God, and that I follow Jesus with more integrity. I understand that I am constantly learning and I'm committed to growing in faith and love.
As to my definition of the word "sermon"? It would have to be this: "To speak truth and life into a community of faith; to challenge and encourage, to apply the transformational power of Gospel to every day life."
It's Monday morning, and this is what is on my mind and in my heart today - DEREK