For some reason I have had a chance to listen to a lot of preaching this summer and although it is my job to put the best construction on everything most of what I have heard was pretty sad. Sorry that is just a fact. Part of the problem with being a Pastor is the inability to sit and let someone else preach the Gospel to you. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the sermon that should be preached rather than the sermon that I am hearing. That problem is compounded when the preacher never gets to the Gospel.
Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Luther was of course polemical. He was defending the Gospel all through his life and this concept of “professing Christ” versus “confessing Christ” is important for today. Where is the devil and the world attacking when the preacher preaches?
At a funeral I would suggest that the devil and the world attack at the point of our old self righteousness. Did the deceased do enough, were they good enough, did they make heaven, was God punishing them or the family, why now? The world gives the platitudes – it was a blessing, it was untimely, and on and on. The truth is that every death is an abomination that God never intended for human beings and apart from Christ a death is a nightmare of what if’s and why? Talking about how wonderful the deceased was is foolish on the face of it. If they were so wonderful why are they dead? Simply professing Christ sometime in the sermon makes it worse. The job of the preacher is to bring Christ to the point of attack and proclaim the fact that for this sinner Christ died and rose again. For this sinner Christ carried the burden and bled and died to remove the power of sin. For this sinner Christ was born and suffered and died. To paraphrase the Nicene Creed the preacher needs to preach that Christ, “Who for this sinner and their Salvation became man”. For this one Christ made this death a gateway to life everlasting.
At weddings the point of attack is the selfish nature of our desires. Most people today live together before marriage. They don’t understand the nature of what marriage is. It is the giving of Gifts. God gifts this couple to one another. The families gift their children to one another. The couple gifts themselves to one another and Christ gifts them himself and makes the two one. We have to bring Christ to that point of attack and “confess” that this couple sinfully took all the gifts when they decided to live together and now they are getting married because they want more gifts. The only hope for their life together is Christ and his gifts of forgiveness. To simply “profess” Christ somewhere in the sermon is execrable.
Every Sunday the point if attack changes and that’s why the greatest preparation is living. Preachers are living in the same world as the people they serve with same struggles and problems. To profess a Christ that you hope exists, rather than confessing a Christ that does and comes through word and Sacrament is not just a “disgraceful flinch”, it is a deadly delusion.