Why preach? I don’t mean this existentially, although there are some who would ask this question that way. Why, in a world that is increasingly skeptical of “experts” do preachers think they have the right to stand before their congregations and tell them anything? That’s not the question I want to ask. As a preacher, you’d assume that I am fairly well convinced of the power of the homiletical craft. Rather, as one who preaches, I have to regularly ask myself, why? Why is this sermon worth hearing? Why this text? Why these words? More often than not, the why question comes down to asking myself, “what is the goal of the sermon?”
For many these days, the goal of a sermon is to offer a practical lesson from Scripture that is applicable for our lives. This is a good goal, by and large. Sermons that get stuck in the past – historical lessons on what was happening in the context in which Jesus lived – can be interesting, but won’t get much traction over time. It is helpful to bring the story forward and to help our people and ourselves understand what this particular bit of holy writ has to do with life in 21st century America. The downside, of course, is that we tend to over emphasize ourselves in the text. Eisegesis and vapid moralization aren’t all that far away when the goal of the sermon is to make the text offer some lesson for our congregation today.
These questions and concerns came to mind this morning as I read the short Gospel passage appointed for this week. It is the familiar story of Jesus calling Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John from their family fishing boats to become “fishers of people.” My initial reaction was to think about what was happening in the hearts and minds of the four newest Disciples that would allow them to drop everything and follow Jesus. I wondered about the reactions of their families. I worried for their livelihoods. I pondered what it might take for each of us to respond immediately when Jesus says, “Follow me.” While I think these are all worthwhile questions and would make for a decent sermon on the text, I found myself wanting something more.
It can’t just be about me. The goal of the sermon ought not just be about giving the congregation something they can hold on to or motivating them to change their lives in some way. Rather than another sermon admonishing them to drop everything and follow Jesus (which isn’t really a thing for 21st century Christians), what if the sermon focused instead on the call to follow in and of itself? What if, instead of focusing on the response, the sermon looked deeply into the one who does the calling? Isn’t that what grace is all about? Not about how I can get myself over the hump to follow Jesus, but how by God’s grace, Jesus brings me into the kingdom.
The text doesn’t give us much to work with, but I think there is something there. The one who is preaching that the Kingdom of God has come near beckons. The one who is called the Son of God calls us by name. The one who is the Good News invites us to share in it. There is more to dig into here, and time will tell if I can find a sermon that doesn’t devolve into “will you follow Jesus?” but for today, I’m adjusting the goal of my sermon; not to motivate us to follow, for that is God’s job, but rather, to focus on a deepening relationship with the one who calls.