When I preach on Sunday mornings, I do so out of the Gospel passage in the lectionary and (I hope) my sermons are positive messages that stray away from things like wrath, judgment, and fear. I have heard frequently from people in the church that we need to hear more about these things. However, it seems to me those who ask for it already know all they need to know about it. I wrote this in 2011.
A preacher was once standing in the pulpit looking over his sermon for the service the next day. He stood there to practice, to understand what it meant to say the words he had written from the front of the sanctuary. As sermons travel from desk to pulpit, they — more often than not — undergo a great deal of rather necessary change. He made a few marks, changed an illustration, and then took a look over the newspaper by his other hand.
As he read of wars and rumors of wars, he heard a noise from the back of the nave. A parishioner like any other walked in, took off his hat, and quietly closed the door behind him before proceeding down the aisle. He began to walk up toward the altar, but stopped, startled to see the preacher there. He almost turned around as if not ready to speak to his minister, but instead moved defiantly forward.
“Pastor,” he said. “I have an issue that needs addressing straightaway.”
The preacher stepped down from the pulpit and asked with concern, “What is it you need, brother?”
“Frankly,” the parishioner said without missing a beat, “it’s your preaching.”
Surprised and somewhat taken aback, the minister said, “Oh?”
“Your preaching, yes,” the parishioner said. “You don’t preach from the Old Testament — it seems like you’re always preaching from the New Testament.”
The conversation paused as the minister considered the criticism. He did not often preach on the Old Testament reading —in fact, of late he preached almost exclusively from the Gospel reading. After a moment, the preacher replied, “What would you have me do?”
“Well, brother, to start with, you could talk about the Ten Commandments,” he began.
“And what are they?” the minister asked.
“Thou shalt has no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain,” he began in the King’s English, continuing through all ten precisely, concluding, “Thou shalt not covet.”
The minister smiled, “What else?”
“Well, you could talk about Israel,” the parishioner said. “Talk about how God protects his nation. Or you could talk about the prophecies about Jesus.” The man continued with a litany of stories from the Hebrew Bible, concluding with a more general statement, “Most of all, you need to talk about wrath. We don’t talk about the wrath or judgment of God anymore. We need to put the fear of God in people, preacher. Otherwise they won’t know what to do.”
The clergyman considered his words. Indeed, he spent a great deal of time thinking about them. Finally, he sat down in a pew near his brother and answered him, “It seems you already know a great deal about these things, so I only need to continue to preach the Gospel all the more.”