Honestly, how do I get myself into these situations?
Last summer I decided to preach a sermon series in the fall on the most common objections to the Christian faith. “How could a good God allow suffering?” “The church is responsible for so much injustice in the world” “How can a loving God send people to hell?” – that sort of thing.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
And now the fall is here, and I’m wondering how this could have happened.
I’m not alone in having thought of preaching a sermon series. After all, preachers have been doing this for a long, long time.
Those of us who’ve been around for a while have, at one time or another, preached our way through the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and more. In my childhood I remember my pastor preaching a sermon series on the 12 sons of Jacob, one sermon per son. (Somehow I remember that the youngest, Benjamin, was left-handed.)
Last summer I preached my way through the Bible’s long narrative on the life of King David, and by the time I reached the story about David’s affair with Bathsheba, I realized that I had taken on too much for a summer Sunday in July. I could sense that people were hoping for something a little lighter before heading off to the beach.
The 16th century Reformer John Calvin used to preach lectio continua, which means that he preached his way through entire books of the Bible, verse by verse, an example that’s been followed by many, many preachers who’ve followed him. (When I’ve done this, I’ve tended to choose short books, though, because a sermon series on, say, Luke’s gospel could very well take a couple of years or more.)
Here’s my concern about the fall. And it’s not that people might miss one or two of my sermons along the way, almost demanding that I include lots of review each week to keep people up to speed.
No, my concern is that I’m bound to say too little for some – and too much for others.
Take a topic like “You can’t take the Bible literally,” which will be the last sermon in the series. I know there are going to be people who want me to make certain specific statements about the Bible, statements they’ve heard many times over the years, and I know there are going to be people who are dreading those statements because they’ve heard them a lot and don’t know if they believe them anymore.
With a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, you can say about as much as you want, without offending anyone. A lot more is at stake when you’re talking about, say, the limits of God’s love, which is coming up in week 5.
Here’s my plan. And it’s going to be the same approach I’ve used in more than 30 years of preaching. I’m going to do my best. I’m going to say as plainly and as confidently as I know how what I believe to be true. And not just what I believe to be true. I’m going to say what people of faith have said consistently and reliably down through the centuries.
And then I’m going to trust that people, by a miracle of the holy Spirit that I don’t pretend to understand, will hear exactly what they most need to hear.