Vending Machine Sermons

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

If I would get a ‘tenner’ every time someone complains about a subject that is their ‘pet project’ and isn’t preached by the pastors… It never ceases to amaze how we love to reinforce our information and conviction on what we know and feel safe with, to the detriment of discovering something that might just rock our world a little. I’m not talking about reinterpreting Scripture. I’m talking about ignoring Scripture.

This wrestling is evident to me, personally. As I am doing my daily-ish readings through The Bible in One Year – I feel so tempted to skip Old Testament passages. My attention span wrestles with some of the detail heavy narratives, my sensibility is affected by the gory and blood-filled conflicts and my spirit is grieved by the countless number of lessons not learned…

The Psalms and Proverbs are fine in small chunks but either repetitive thematically (Psalms) or one liners that deserve to be meditated on in small bites (Wisdom Literature). Don’t even get me started on the depressive darkness of some of the prophetic books…

I like logic and like lists and practical day to day applications – at heart I guess I am a pragmatist – that’s why the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s Epistles rank highly in my estimation.

Yet I have discovered that if I was to act on my preferences – I would have a poorer understanding of God’s character, HIStory and man’s role in it. I would be like the kid that eats just ice cream – hardly a healthy and balanced diet, pleasurable though it may be.

Some of the modern day dangers of this approach to preaching/teaching in our faith communities are these:

  • when we chose thematic issues that we feel are relevant – we are like patients that prescribe their own chosen medicine for their self-diagnosed sickness
  • when we avoid a systematic Biblical expository approach – we are likely to miss out on being surprised by unexpected comforts and challenges that ‘the whole counsel of God brings’.
  • when we isolate certain passages for extra focus (red letter Christians) – we are less likely to trace a pretty clear Scriptural pattern evident through HIStory.

My encouragement to us all is to keep engaging with the study of the whole Bible – wrestling with genres and passages we find harder. I encourage the formation of new ‘preaching taste buds’ primarily for expository preaching where the preacher works through and applies the text rather than coming up with an idea and then finding texts to support it. The later isn’t wrong as an occasional method but not recommended as a staple diet.

As Tim Keller observes:

“Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. . . . You can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks and months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.”