What does it mean when you construct a sermon which is meant to be intentionally controversial, and no one seems to be offended or even has questions? I ask because this past Sunday I was preaching on a passage which implies (and I blatantly in my sermon stated) that some who think they are inheritors of the kingdom, and others who try to pass themselves off as such are simply not.
The passage in question is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, more specifically, the conclusion of it (Matthew 7:15-27):
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
My intent of course was not to accuse congregants of being not “saved”, but for each person introspectively ask what salvation really means, given that Jesus suggests here that who is “in” and who isn’t is not as clear-cut as we may assume. But I haven’t yet heard much in the way of response. I’m thinking there’s a few possibilities:
1. The folks who needed to be challenged were not in attendance?
2. No one was really listening? (or they assume I’m talking about someone else?)
3. People are just not comfortable confronting the pastor when they hear something they don’t like/are troubled by? Perhaps the offended parties are simply not speaking up?
4. My congregation is actually perfect and are certain of their salvation?
5. My congregation is so self-deceived that a challenge to their salvation isn’t enough to rattle them at all?
6. They have’t said anything yet, but are so offended that they needed to cool off or are sitting at their computers composing well written adversarial responses?
7. Perhaps I am self-deceived and wasn’t actually “in your face”?
I have a few thoughts on why it isn’t generating a response, but I am somewhat disappointed, not in my congregation, but in the way the church doesn’t have a dialogue when it comes to the pastor’s sermons. If something is said, it rare for someone to challenge it, or ask for clarification. I recall one sermon I did in the spring at Milton Baptist, which a friend in the congregation called “ballsy”- he was thinking as I was that it might generate a reaction… But, alas, nothing. No response beyond the smiling handshake and “good sermon pastor”.
Are our churches just taking in everything without critically thinking it through? Or do they elevate the pastor in their minds to a status whereby he/she cannot be challenged? Or are pastors so prone to preach “safe” sermons that people are just used to not being pushed? I wonder how we generate a bit more discussion and reflection in church. I think it would be truly helpful if there was more thought-provoking discussion- not an open opportunity to bash the pastor for either poor theology or poor homiletic skill. Jesus was good at pushing buttons, and making people think, and discuss. He was offensive enough to have powerful people wanting him dead. The lesson should be that preaching truth should push people who may or may not appreciate the push. Until the folks in the pew are faultlessly following the will of God, the truth should be challenging. Jesus’ challenge to us should make us uncomfortable, it should spur us on.
Or maybe I just suck at provoking people.