Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached

What was the greatest sermon you ever heard preached? Two stand out in my mind. The first was delivered by Anglican Rector and world-traveled speaker/theologian NT Wright. He was speaking at Wheaton College Chapel during the Theology Conference featuring his writings. He delivered the most compelling message using the entire book of Ephesians. Using single verses from each chapter, he developed what he understands to be God's eternal purposes for the world. I will never forget it.

Shortly after I returned from that conference, Calvary hosted the Reverend Dr. Mark Labberton who kicked off our spring sermon series on "THE DANGEROUS ACT OF WORSHIP." Mark's authentic, low-key, and personal delivery as he taught from Isaiah 58 was unforgettable to me. Not only was his understanding of Scripture so compelling, but his personal stories and examples drove his point home with forceful imagery.

What was your favorite sermon ever? Was it an electrifying evangelistic sermon by Billy Graham? Was it a provocative, intellectual lecture-like sermon? Was it from someone you knew? Was it a short sermon or a long sermon? Or, are you like me? I am a visual learner rather than an auditory learner so I often have a difficult time remembering things I hear. But I remember visuals.

It is interesting that in our culture that is so saturated with technology, media, and information, that preaching still has a place in our faith development. The attention span of the average American has been shortened dramatically so that it is hard to focus on and remember an entire 20 minute sermon. Even though God still chooses to use the sermon as a means of communicating the truths of the faith (Faith comes from hearing and hearing comes from the Word of Christ - Romans 10:17)the sermon seems antiquated and countercultural. That is one reason why we sometimes use drama, music, video, or visual props to help communicate.

This past weekend, several of you spoke to me about the concluding act of our worship that illustrated and drove home the sermon's main point. After talking about Jesus statement that believers are "the light of the world," I too was struck with the visual of 80 people standing in the darkness in front of the church with candles in hand, their warm inviting life signifying our commitment to be light in our world. Sunday was no less dramatic as we sang "Lift High The Cross" and people spontaneously began holding their lit candles high above their heads. It sent chills through my soul as I realized that a single action like that would represent the commitment to shine the light of Christ in our world.

When I think of great sermons I have read or heard, Jesus' inaugural sermon that we know as "The Sermon On The Mount" ranks at the top of the list. Jesus was the master communicator; a preacher extraordinaire. Christ's effectiveness as a communicator was not because of homiletical training. It was not because he held a prestigious pulpit.

We know that from a very early age, Jesus had a solid grasp on the Hebrew Scriptures and amazed the Pharisees, Rabbis and teachers of the Law with his keen understanding.
He taught "as one with authority." But what strikes me about the Sermon on the Mount is the relevancy or the way in which he made the Scripture come to life in a very practical, applicable way. I find The Sermon on the Mount to be an incredible primer on the theology and ethics of Jesus and I try to read it at least 2 or 3 times a year just to keep myself grounded as a preacher and as a Christ-follower. It has that kind of trans-cultural relevance and importance. When I read it I almost feel like I am one of those people gathered on a hillside in Galilee listening to this gentle Rabbi in person.

The British physician, pastor and Bible expositor Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used thirty Sunday's of eloquent preaching to expound on this passage at Westminster Chapel in London in the 1950s. These are fabulous messages in themselves. But they testify to the even greater truth and impact of Jesus' timeless teaching in this passage from Matthew's Gospel.

That is why Dan and I felt it would be beneficial and relevant to spend the fall message time reflecting on Jesus' great sermon. In particular, we want to focus on the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven. What does it mean in practical terms to live like Christ-followers in our day?

I know that Dan nor I can really do justice in preaching from this great sermon. And we will not take the better part of a year to do so. But I believe you will find very practical, relevant and inspirational truth as we reflect on Jesus' familiar words and seek to apply them to our lives.

It is said that the greatest evidence of effective preaching is "changed lives." I pray that each of us will experience transformation as we reflect on Jesus' teaching through his Word.

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