Auch die Predigt ist Hören
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Dear Congregation, today I said something about sermon in general and it is clear to me that this sermon must be especially good. So naturally no stress during preparation, no pressure, no expectations.
I am always grateful that I can rely on God.
And since today it should be fundamentally about the worship part of the sermon, I have chosen the bibliologue that we have just done. I want to emphasize the importance of the listening aspect of the sermon. I hope that this has become clear with the bibliologue: everyone hears the Bible passages differently. We get stuck on a word or a thought and do not hear the one of the other word. Or maybe just partially listen because we cannot take in everything. Because our listening is dependent on so many things.
Am I tired or awake? In a good or bad mood? What have I experienced the last days? Which task currently occupies me? What have I experienced? How well do I know the Bible? Have I already heard today’s passage? Have I already read it? Have I heard a sermon about it or formed my own thoughts about it?
All factors which influence our listening and the reason why we hear such a wide spectrum of answers.
I must confess that I would really like to address all the answers. But there are two reasons why I can not do this in a sermon in the United Methodist Church. First of all, I would go against what I have learned about preaching, also known as homiletics, if I were to talk about more than three ideas. Okay, this might be possible. To make an exception.
But the second reason is more important and this has to do with our translation into English. We, the ones who preach, have an agreement with our translators that we finish the sermon by Thursday evening. This way the translators have enough time to translate and also to decide if they do this important work on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Basically, we as a congregation are thankful that we can offer this service to be an international congregation. And since our translator, Betsey Jansen is in China right now, I had to send her the sermon before Thursday evening. (yes, as I am translating in the car, a Chinese car and the model is called, “Trumpchi” as I am being driven from Emei three hours in-land but luckily I have a SIM card from Hong Kong which gives me internet access with limited firewalls. And the road is very bumpy).
I have worked out three main points of focus which have touched me while reading and have stuck with me. The first one was, „whom you crucified“, the second one was the request to „turn back“ and the third was the the conclusion, “congregation grew on this day by 3000 people.“
Let’s start with „whom you crucified“
I do not know how you feel but this statement without pointing a finger is difficult to imagine, don’t you think? In the new Genevan translation, this part is printed in a way so that it sticks out and differentiates from the other words. Whom you crucified – that is a hefty indictment.
And now it plays a powerful role how I hear the, „you“.
Am I a Jew? Did I live almost 2000 years ago? Am I not a believer? Is Jesus not my friend?
I have already said this by a sermon about the Gospel according to John: The distinction between a Jesus follower and, „the“ Jews has unfortunately had a fatal, bad history of effects. A time of Jewish persecution, the discrimination or disadvantage and the devaluation has begun hearing this, „you“ like this. „You“ have crucified Jesus. Not me.
But today I want to ask: Did Jesus also not die for your sins?
If Jesus did not die for your sins then your sins are not forgiven. So that is how I hear and think this passage. This, “you” that is me. Of course I did not drive the nail through Jesus‘ hands or feet but it is also my guilt that was crucified. My distance to God, which Jesus wanted to heal. But it is because of me that God goes this way. In order to save me.
The second part was, „turn back“.
With this I went pregnant for a few days.
I have said this especially in order to clearly say: not allowed. In Graz one is not allowed to preach like this. No foreign words and no idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are the crown of a language.
One understands this first when one is really good at a language or has lived in the country for a long time. Idiomatic expressions can only be translated with a lot of experience. With the part, „turn back“, I was occupied for a few days. I had to think a lot about this part. This is understandable. I asked myself a long time: what does this, „turn back” really mean? What does Peter want from me now? Baptism is a clear thing, I know that and I know what has to be done. But from what should I turn around from? And then I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down the word, „knowledge“ on a piece of paper on which I gather my thoughts for today’s sermon.
Only persons who recognize what is good or bad can turn back. In order to turn back, we have to stop and be aware of what we are doing now. Where will our goals take us. How do we spend our money. Who do we go out with. What happens next to us. And then think about what is important and perhaps what could be changed. Not everything at once because that usually goes wrong. But step for step with patience and silence. It is understandable that we as Christians cannot do everything. It is written very nicely in Psalm 139. The last two verses: „Search me, God and know my heart; test me and recognize what I mean. And see if I am on the evil way and guide me in an everlasting way.“
With this I come to the classical third and final part and with this the conclusion for today’s reading: „Through God’s work the congregation grew on this day by 3000 persons“.
Impressive right? 3000 persons.
We would not even be able to hold this amount standing in our church. Not even if we were to stand as close as possible to one another. I measured the church and found out that it is 165m². It would mean that there would be enough room for 18 persons to share one m². And imagine if there were some heavy people amongst the 3000! Unthinkable.
Since all Christian congregations want to grow I would like to share two thoughts with you. Both come from lectures which I listen to while I ride my bike so that the, „doing exercise“ is not so boring.
Imagine our congregation would be five times bigger than it is today. Instead of 45 – 50 persons there would be 250 in a church service. Like I said – standing they would fit in. But how can 250 persons be in a relationship? How can I as a pastor, be connected with all? And know what they need? Or what they wish? Or visit them regularly?
Just to be big but not have the relatiuonships? So, I make a first question mark after this wish. And whether or not the collection is bigger if the people do not feel addressed or responsible? I will make a second question mark here. Okay, we do not have to grow five times larger at once. A comfortable growth would not be bad. Yet hear the following statement: „Shepards do not beget sheep. Sheep beget sheep.“
I mean, I do not want to elegantly take myself out of this game as pastor. Naturally there needs to be good sermons so that one is not ashamed to invite others to come to the church service, there is no question about that. But it is clear what this statement is saying, don’t you think?
If we want to grow then we have to invite people. Not just the pastor but all of us. This way they can witness and experience why God has called us and them.
Let's sum up:
„whom you have crucified“ – no, you are meant.
Therefore „turn back“ – for this I must know from what.
„3000 “ - thinking big is cool. Somehow.
But simply taking the next obvious step could already make something happen.
Invite someone or better yet – take them with you.