Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
2 Timothy 4:2
I am writing this on a Friday with a Sunday sermon not yet delivered. I woke up this morning thinking about my text, about the stories I would tell and the appeals I would make to my congregation. As a pastor, I carry the weekend homily like a crockpot simmers a well-crafted stew. It is a slow cook with the hopes of a Sunday meal that is rich and nourishing. I’m also thinking this morning about three groups of people who will hear and receive the message in completely different ways.
1. The Saints
… to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …
I love the phrase “his people.” These are people that already belong to God but they need help, strength, teaching, and lots of encouragement. When I preach, I think about the grandparents who have faithfully followed Christ for 40 years who just need some wind in their sails. I think about the young college student who is trying to be a faithful witness at her school. I think about the saints who need some hope and sometimes, some rebuilding. The saints know they are to be salt and light, ambassadors and witnesses. They feel the deep call to worship God and serve their neighbors, but they need strength for the journey. They need their pastors to think about them when they preach.
2. The Cynics
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.
The crowds of people who heard Paul preach in Athens, Greece were a tough bunch to convince. They had heard the great philosophers of their age discuss the latest trends and fads. They were not moved by emotional diatribes or tirades about morality. Discussion and questions led to more discussions and questions. There are cynics sitting in my congregation every weekend who want me to be passionate, but thoughtful. They want to see proof that my life has been transformed by the messages I bring. They will not accept cheap Twitter slogans or emotional hyperbole. They will listen to me only if I care about their questions. They will not be coerced into an immediate response, but they will return to hear me again, sometimes with an entirely new list of questions.
3. The Prodigals
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Is there any better redemption story than this one? The son was a punk, who had really messed up his life. He imagined that dad would be angry and dismissive, but he had no other choice but to come home and risk a shameful reception. Instead, his dad ran toward him, kissed him and welcomed him home. Every weekend, my building is full of prodigals wanting to come home. They want to believe that God will forgive them, receive them in all their messiness and call them sons and daughters. It all sounds too good to be true. But it is true. Every time I preach, on any topic, I think about the prodigals and what they will hear. When it is time, I try to make it easy for them to find their way home.