Monday, March 3, 2014

Learn Something

When it comes to speaking from the pulpit at Pleasant Bay Church, I’m confident that my best sermons are the ones in which I’ve learned the most in my study leading up to preaching. I don’t know if that seems counterintuitive to you; one might think that the best sermons are the ones preached from expertise. That might be true for me when it comes to being a guest speaker, but when it comes to speaking from my home pulpit, it often seems best when we are learning together

Yesterday was one of those days. I had a lot of positive feedback on a sermon from 1 Corinthians 11 (we’re in a series from 1 Corinthians, the notes and audio are available here). 

Now it wasn’t as if I was a newcomer to the text. In fact I’ve probably preached a mini-sermon from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 most every first-Sunday of the month for the past dozen years. I have the passage memorized, not because I purposefully sat down and committed it to memory, but because I have repeated it so many times before serving Communion. 

But the series caused me to dig deeper when it came to this familiar passage as well as the surrounding texts. The series has me rooted in the context like never before, giving me better insight into what the text meant to the original readers. I am also grateful to Gordon Fee and his excellent commentary on 1 Corinthians; he has been an excellent guide in my study through this series. 

When it came to this passage, here are a few of the big things I learned:
  1. The instructive from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, that which I usually treat as a standalone passage, was almost certainly a correction of error… likely a correction of a specific error. The Corinthians were abusing each other as the haves and have nots were treated differently (horizontal), and they appeared to have lost track of the fundamental reason for coming to the Lord’s Supper (vertical).
  2. I have a much better understanding of the term "in an unworthy manner" as it appears in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. I have generally thought of this in vertical terms, but now I am convinced that this is most certainly a horizontal matter. This may shake up my theology a bit. For example, if this text is about Christians’ relationships with one another (horizontal) then what Biblical basis is there for not welcoming non-believers to join in Communion? 
My point today isn’t so much about what I’m learning, but that I’m learning (if you’re interested in more about what I learned, check out the sermon). I don’t make a big deal out of the new things I’m learning from the pulpit, but many in my congregation can tell, and they seem to appreciate it. Having a learner in the pulpit is good for all sorts of reasons; here are a few things I’m thinking about today:
  1. It energizes the preacher. How can I expect folks to be excited about the sermon if the preacher isn’t excited about the sermon?
  2. It keeps the content fresh. I know that I’ve repeated myself from time to time over the past dozen years in Pleasant Bay’s pulpit, but I haven’t much. I don’t think this congregation would put up with it for long.
  3. It encourages discussion and questions (learning together). After Sunday’s sermon, I had folks approach me with additional insight. It appears that they know that I’m open to learning with them and interested in their perspectives.
  4. It models learning. It is good that folks come to learn… but it is even better when they go to learn too. Sunday should not be their only source; I want folks to be learning in various ways throughout their weeks.


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