Slavish, or Lavish, Liturgical Preaching?
The recent post of a sermon by Pastor Cwirla elicited a criticism from a fine Lutheran pastor. You can read the comment he made by going to Pastor Cwirla’s sermon. The pastor was questioning why we it seems we must always have a "slavish" reference to the liturgy in every sermon it seems from Pastor Cwirla. Well, count me "guilty" of the same "slavishness." I can’t help but mention the means of grace when I preach, for, as Pastor Cwirla observes in a response, how can we avoid mentioning precisely how this is all "for you"? Update: The pastor who posted the "criticism" of Pastor Cwirla was in fact doing so in jest! The joke’s on me for sure. But…I think it is a good conversation to have for I do know that some among us raise this criticism from time-to-time. The issue is this: is preaching the means of grace a slavish liturgical preaching, or … is it lavish preaching of the giftts of Christ?
Pastor Cwirla dug up a quote from another Lutheran preacher who had these remarks to make when he was preaching on the healing of the Paralytic.
"It is also the evil spirit’s doing that we find ourselves dead in the water spiritually; otherwise our hearts would be joyful and comforted. For think what it would mean if we rightly and truly believed that what Christ here says to the man sick with palsy, he is saying to you and to me every day in baptism, in absolution, and in public preaching, that I must not mistakenly think that God is angry and ungracious toward me. Shouldn’t that cause me to stand on my head with joy? Wouldn’t that make everything sweet as sugar, pure as gold, sheer everlasting life? The fact that this doesn’t happen for us proves that the "old Adam" and the devil drag us away from faith and the Word." (Martin Luther, Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity) quoted from "The House Postils," Eugene Klug, tr. (Baker, 1996), vol 3, p. 82
Pastor Cwirla then observes:
Luther here makes the same point. What Christ did for the paralyzed man, He does for us through Baptism and Absolution. In fact, you might say that every miracle of Christ, including resurrection from the dead, is worked for us through the Word and the Sacraments.
What say you friends??? Is it possible that in an over-reaction to preachers who do in fact follow a
slavish formulaic pattern of always finally making the whole point of the sermon the reception of the Lord’s Supper we are in danger of neglecting truly quality means of grace preaching? For fear of being one of those who finds the Lord’s Supper in every reference to bread in the New Testament, are we neglecting proper pointing of our folks precisely to those means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in those whom He will, with the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, as we confess in our Augustana, Article V? Are we perhaps tempted to "de-flesh" the Word made Flesh and avoid referencing precisely where it is, and how it is, that He comes to us today with grace and mercy, through those very humble, concrete means He has given? Is that "slavish liturgical preaching"? My concern is that when we preach a "means free" sermon we are reducing the Faith to a concept, a pious wish, a fine idea, a noble truth, but not what it is: flesh and blood reality, or rather Flesh and Blood reality.
Clearly what is incorrect liturgical preaching is making the point of every sermon nothing *other* than talking about taking Holy Communion. That lack of balance is wrong. I’ve read too many sermons like that, that seem to fall over themselves, skimping on real Law and neglecting the Gospel, thinking that by speaking only of taking Communion they are somehow covering the Redemption of Christ….yes, yes…that is not good. Nor is there any place for sermons that shy away from preaching sanctifcation. I’ve said plenty there. But….we need also to guard against "means free" preaching.