So, I have been filling a vacancy 60+ miles away.
They have a Seminarian coming - there are only 4 more services for me to do there.
Interestingly enough, they are on the 3 years series, and I am on the 1 year here. So, what do I do? I write two sermons, one for home and one for there. Is this much more work - yes. But it's been good for a very simple reason.
So there I will sit, normally on Wednesday mornings, writing out my draft for that congregation up there, and I understand that I am just a placeholder - just holding down the fort for a few weeks until some young fella from the Sem shows up. 7 weeks total. 7 sermons. And it's all through the Easter Season so far - the time when the readings have Christ preparing us for life in the New Testament Church.
So here I am, knowing that I have as part of my duty preparing this congregation for their new pastor - how they are to view him, what they are to expect... not things of personality, not this or that - but they are to hear someone who preaches the Gospel.
And by that I really mean... Gospel.
Not the plans for a better life.
Not his secret seven steps for a better you.
Not the mysteries of the natural law -- you know, the things that God didn't clearly say in the bible but He obviously wants you to do it, since people who don't do this sacred bull of mine annoy me (so clearly it violates God's Law).
Not any stretch of legalism or things like that.
Just the truth that they are sinners in a sinful world - yet Christ has conquered over sin and the world, and thus, to survive in this life, we need constantly to receive that love and mercy and forgiveness.
Really. That's it.
That is what we need. We need to see the impacts of sin, our own and the world's sin, and then we need to see Christ Jesus crucified.
This is what Jesus tells us over and over.
And as I'm writing for this vacancy congregation - as I know my time there is limited... the little David Scaer on my shoulder constantly says, "Get to the point!" And of course, as David Scaer would tell you, the point is Christ and Him Crucified.
As pastors, we know that this is the point. But here is the problem. Familiarity breeds contempt.
We see the flaws that people in our congregation have, and they can annoy us, and so instead of proclaiming Christ (with the effect that His love and Mercy flows onto and through people... you know, so *He* does the work), we get tempted to try to fix them ourselves, to give them what for.
Because we just know that there's plenty of time for some Gospel later... but what they "need" now is a good dose of the law....
Don't we realize that this is the biggest danger any of us face? To get basically bored of the Gospel? To doubt it's effectiveness and instead cling to the Law? To let our own personal wants, desires, and bugaboos shape our preaching?
We are like those who abandon our first love of the Gospel, and our works dry up. We might hate the really bad folks... but we're still not what we should be.
Examine yourselves, o preachers! Don't just assume that you are preaching the Gospel - that you are preaching Christ. Look at your sermons -- is there more talk of what Christ does for your people, or of what your people ought to be doing? Is the cross just a throwaway line or two in the sermon, or is the point of your preaching taking the Cross and saying, "This is why this is, this is what this is"?
Filling this vacancy has reminded me of a simply truth. As I stepped up there I knew that I didn't need to "fix" that congregation - that I was just a place holder up there, simply pointing to Christ.
I'll have 7 weeks up there. I'm finishing up my 7th year here... but you know what? It still isn't my job to "fix" my congregation. I am still just a placeholder, and I am still here simply to be pointing to Christ.
God keep me from doing anything other but pointing to Christ Jesus at my own parish, and by my "works" bringing it all to utter destruction.