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I consider the church a gift of God for the people of God when it sees itself as a gift from God. The church can be a curse when it sees itself as a requirement of God for the people of God. Looking at church history we can see the beautiful sacrifices the early martyrs and disciples made in the name of God. We can look at the personal lives of so many saints from generation to generation and be amazed and inspired.

We can also see as the institutional church came into power that when it acted like the power of Rome, people got hurt. The church did great when it acted like the love of Jesus. All we need do is look at the Crusades, the Inquisition, the wars of the Reformation and the execution of thousands by the institutional church, whether hanging heretics in Europe or drowning witches in America.

This brings me to the gift and curse of sermons…and no, short sermons are not always the gift and long ones the curse! Let us look at sermons in the same light we see the institutional church. Sermons are gifts of God and the preacher to the people of God, as pieces of art that a preacher composes/paints/acts out and presents for the congregation. Sermons will be engaged or valued by some and discarded by others. In fact, how many times have people heard something in a sermon that was never delivered. That could be because the Holy Spirit was translating the sermon or the message was simply transformed as it moved through the person’s mental and emotional filters. Maybe the saying is true, “Art and sermons are in the eyes and ears of the beholder.”

It is often tempting for me as preacher, to come up with a judgmental sermon TELLING people how to behave, how to pray, how to get closer to God. I try to resist that temptation most of the time, other than during the season of Lent. Most of my sermons are reflections upon how Scripture engages me, how I hear it engages others and how I want to share that with the people of God. Sermons, at their best, are not telling people what to do or how to behave but presenting the preacher’’ experiences and understandings of Jesus and Scripture as that relates to the day to day lives of the preachers and people of God.

Sermons at their best are gifts of God for the people of God as translated through the life and words and heart of the preacher and listeners. So, take sermons for what they are, not what we sometimes say they are. Listen, hear, mark, learn and inwardly digest what the preacher is saying. Take the good. Let go of the bad. The good news is that you do not have to leave the church because of one or two sermons you disagree with. The bad news is, you need to listen to the sermons you disagree with. There might be some transformative words for you. Your feedback to the preacher might be transformative good news for the preacher.

For what it’s worth.

“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face.” I Corinthians 13.12 KJV. Rev. Shumard is priest in charge of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper. You may contact him at jshumie@aol.com.

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