Most churches would hesitate to label themselves as legalistic or law-centered. I want to take a look at a typical ‘seeker-friendly’ helpful life-focused practical sermon meant to help normal average people lead better lives.
Let’s suppose our friendly and kind of cool pastor has chosen to do a series on marriage. This is a popular subject. God cares about marriages, and He wants us all to have strong vibrant Christ-centered marriages. What might be some of the sermon points?
Of course Ephesians 5 is a bit controversial, we don’t want to scare off the seekers. All of that business about wives submitting, it is true of course but we don’t want to raise issues of gender bias unnecessarily. Instead, our friendly and kind of cool pastor focuses on oneness and strong relationships. The home groups can maybe get into the harder stuff.
So, what are our sermon points? People need to schedule dates, it is important to have time just for the two of you. Communication is key. Married couples should make time for prayer together, this is so important! Married couples should also be spending time in the word together of course. Our friendly and kind of cool pastor and his wife don’t really exactly do these things, but it is the principle of the thing that goes in the sermon anyway. It is important to remember those special times, like anniversaries and birthdays. What about in-laws? While we respect them, it is important to leave and cleave. You’re not married to your mother. Your spouse should be your best friend. And if you have to, schedule and plan times for your intimacy, because God wants you to have a sexually satisfying union with your mate. Our friendly and kind of cool pastor knows he should throw in a few tidbits about the tongue and conflict resolution as well, and if there is time, something about money management, since that is probably the source of most marriage conflict. At the end, mention something about receiving Jesus with a prayer and hands raised if someone said yes. Sounds like a great message!
Let’s look at our congregation who is going to receive this wonderful message. There’s the middle-aged divorced woman whose ex is just short of completely psychotic. There’s the young divorced woman with two children. Her ex-husband had a meth addiction and although she tried to hang in there, he finally got arrested and taken to prison. She wishes she could warn her ex’s new girlfriend what a deep circle of hell life is with him. Her son has mild autism and the church doesn’t really deal with his problems with very much understanding. There’s the couple who have just recently come through a time where they came inches from divorce. Between his porn addiction and her anger and overeating issues, they came very close to the edge. Their children, having been neglected and/or verbally abused, have various issues and ways of dealing with it all. There’s the older woman whose alcoholic husband never comes to church. There’s a young man whose family halfway forced him to come along, who is wondering if God even exists. He is out of high school, but can’t afford college, and is trying to figure out what to do. He would love to have a family but can’t imagine how that would ever be possible because every door forward besides minimum wage crap jobs seems closed. There’s another young man who actually fathered a child, and would like to marry the girl, but she is unwilling and much counsel stands against him. How is he to react to this wonderful sermon?
You really have to ask yourself in this day and age, do you think that the people in these situations are really all that rare? Do most people have reasonably stable marriages and jobs and zero issues? Do most marriages consist of strong husband-led unions? Which thing is actually rare? The few people with even a semblance of the kind of life our friendly and kind of cool pastor espouses probably walk out feeling either mildly guilty for not dating enough or because of the argument they had that morning or else they feel smug that they are really living the life.
What kind of sermon do I think our friendly and kind of cool pastor should give? What the heck are we supposed to say to all these hurting people? Is there a sermon to give to this little island of misfit toys?
Of course there is!
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
(1 Peter 5:6, 7, NASB).
Marriage, even a great marriage, is only a picture, a shadow, of the love God has for us. The greatest and most passionate sexual intimacy between total soul mates is only a hint of the everlasting joy to had between Christ and His bride, the Church. This is not to play down the importance of love and sex and marriage. Nothing is more powerful, and when it goes wrong, nothing hurts more. All of us misfit toys, who may or may not have some small taste of earthly success or pleasure, have no hope in having a perfect Christian marriage. That is a bad hope. These kinds of sermons are like Disney movies – they seem so perfect but there is something almost nauseating about how fake it all is. Even the problems they pretend to have seem fake and orchestrated to make a sermon point. I am not saying that marriage is an outdated institution or anything crazy like that. It can never be what our friendly and kind of cool pastor says it ought to be. God is so much bigger than that. I don’t need misguided tepid moralistic advice about how to live – I know only that I will not do it well. I need grace. I need it a lot. I won’t preach anything else. Through the gospel God demonstrates His great love towards us in whatever mess we’ve made, and He says, “don’t worry, I still greatly love you. I will make it right. I will save you. You say you have been a terrible spouse and parent. I accept your confession. I will heal your terrible wounds. I hate it when you hurt.” God is a million miles from wanting to dish out condemnation or giving idle advice that can’t be followed. He truly understands our situation and He truly and greatly loves us. Who wouldn’t want to hear that?