Most any preacher will tell you that by the time the sermon has been delivered, there is a certain sense that things had to be left on the cutting room floor. While this can be somewhat frustrating in the sense that we ministers feel there was more we had yet to have said, there is another sense in which this is entirely appropriate. For starters, a look at our own Westminster Directory for Public Worship section, Of Preaching of the Word, shows the care ministers are to take that the capacities and needs of the congregation are met with due sensitivity, rather than attempting to wow them with endless forays into original languages and classroom theological lecture. While I truly love such forays and lectures, the fact is that sometimes a lot can be said in a lean, concentrated setting. This means trimming some of the content, here and there. I also believe it is helpful, whether one is preaching or teaching, to have more material in one’s possession, than can be poured out in a single setting. Thorough preparedness is a crucial way of respecting the congregation and caring for the sheep.
Because of this, I want to post a series, called Sermon Scraps, when I preach from time to time. Sermon Scraps will be just as it sounds – things that may elucidate a point within a sermon, but are things, given the battle with the clock, that had to be set aside to make room for content more fluidly pertinent to the sermon taken as a piece of homiletic literature on the one hand, and Spirit-empowered, heart-transforming sacred rhetoric, on the other. You may think of Sermon Scraps to the sermon, as footnotes are to an essay.
Take, for instance, last Sunday’s sermon, Come to Earth to Taste Our Sadness, drawn from Hebrews 2:5-18. I plainly admitted there was much more in this wonderful text, than a single exposition could ever explicate. We jumped in and picked out a hat peg or two (i.e., Staggering Mystery – the Son of God Made Lower than the Angels, and Saving Mercy – the Son of God Made Like Us). To have attempted to wring out every verse, every phrase, every word, every cross-connection with the larger teaching of the epistle, not to mention the rest of the Bible would be the stuff of a semester long seminary elective, not a proper Sunday morning feeding.
So, let me pick up a piece or two that had to be left out of the sermon and think about them with you, here. I’ll do one today and another this weekend. Let’s go!
You may recall I pulled out that oft-quoted observation of C.S. Lewis:
“We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I could see some of you nodding in agreement, not only with its indictment, but the simple familiarity of the quotation. In short I said that the problem is not with drink and sex and ambition simply considered, as these can be gifts of God when pursued under his gracious reign. The issue is my “fooling about” with drink and sex and ambition. The trouble is my own foolishness in attempting to find purpose in drink and sex and ambition. I went on to speak of how we all have mud pies collecting dust in the basements of our hearts, because we struggle to see the prize that Jesus actually is.
Now, with the New Year in view, here’s the fuller version of this famous line from Lewis’ book The Weight of Glory:
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we are to consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desire not to strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Can you say, “Amen!”?
The solution to my tomfoolery with drink and sex and ambition, the help for my ignorance, the alternative to my mud pie-making ways, is STRONG DESIRE! Any oppressive and repressive view of the Christian life must be scoffed at. Let’s leave prudishness and uptightness to the supposed liberating effects of Enlightenment self-sufficiency and autonomous reason (i.e., the inescapable, illogical, irrationality of the modernist worldview that does not presuppose the authority of triune God of the Bible and the Bible of the triune God)!
Imagine starting the New Year off lustily going after unblushing promises contained in the Gospels, quite expecting to be staggered by them. Imagine a dogged refusal to be numb, for Christ has made us for so much more… infinitely more – he has made us for himself!
Strong desire is what Jesus intended to stir up – read the Gospels! Strong desire is that which fueled Augustine’s restless heart. Strong desire led Jonathan Edwards to find in Christ the cream of all his pleasures. Strong desire led Lewis out of the slum. Strong desire was the ink for John Piper’s pen, when he wrote Desiring God. I want to be caught up in strong desire! No more halfheartedness! I want my wife, my children, the sheep under my care, and the students I will teach at seminary caught up in strong desire. I want the skeptic, be he dried out by any mutation of Kantian modernism, or worn out with postmodern squishiness, to consider strong desire.
So, are there any fellow half-hearts who want to belly up to the bar of a gospel soul-slating? Then, let’s lift our glasses to 2011 – may it be a year of full-hearted STRONG DESIRE!