Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Matthew 20:1-16
I rarely preach this kind of sermon. I hardly ever spend my time in the pulpit telling everyone what a bunch of miserable, undeserving "maggots" we are. (Ah, quotable Luther! He thought that of himself at times.) I don't exactly do this here. But I talk about who deserves what and I level the playing field as to our own notions of entitlement. I resist this classical mold of preaching because I don't think it encourages a healthy approach to ourselves or to our work especially in my specific community. I don't think it encourages a right relationship to God either. I am a law/gospel preacher, but it's a little more out of the box than tapping into the anxieties we already have about ourselves and reinforcing dangerous attitudes about our powerlessness and lack of worth. So there you have it.
But I did this Sunday. And it was largely successful....as in, people heard it. It fascinates me that my congregation loves these kinds of convict and redeem (law/gospel) sermons. Perhaps it's familiar terrain for these American protestants, a throwback to the piety and narratives of former times. Or are we suckers for punishment? I wondered about that until yesterday when it occurred to me, maybe there is something freeing about being told our needs aren't any more legitimate than anyone else's needs. Maybe it's about wanting to be like everyone else in our helplessness and our sin-bearing. Maybe it's a relief to know we aren't special, but that we are common before God. Common and breathing together. So I'm going with that -- I like the idea that we can be released by the Word into our shared human experience even when it's the shadows and undersides we'd rather not address. Maybe we do need reminding how much we need God in just this kind of way more often than I've been willing to preach.
You may not hear it again for awhile. So soak it up while you can!
And by the way, in former days, these two works were hugely influential on my young and pliable seeker mind - deeply influential writing on leading, sin, redemption, and responsibility: