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Preach to Pain

December 23rd, 2007
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Pastor David Petersen offers on his blog site, in the following words, some very wise and helpful advice to preachers. This is a lesson most men new to the preaching office are usually oblivious too until they get some good, practical, life-experience under their belt ministering to real people with real problems. Sadly, however, some pastors never do get it. I’m going to produce here Pastor P’s thoughts, then follow them by a comment I made in response to it. I really appreciated his thought-provoking remarks, and I hope you do too.

Preach to pain.
by Rev. David Petersen

We sometimes forget this at Christmas. Strangely, I think we even forget it sometimes at funerals.

We need to remember that Christian joy is not giddiness and generic
feelings of happiness or good will toward the world. It is not simply
gratitude that we have nice families who like us and a day off work.
Christian joy is better captured by the mood of Silent Night than it is
by Jingle Bells. It is solemn and serious. It runs deep. It knows
suffering and sorrow and fear.

Shepherds quake at the sight of God laid into a manger in infant
weakness. So should we at the thought of it. It is not all glitter and
eggnog and new toys. There is something deeply troubling in the sorrows
of Mary and the hardships endured by her Son already during His first
night on earth.

Those who have mourned for years are more conflicted and troubled at
Christmas than most any other time of the year. They don’t know how to
feel. They are hurt and yet they are at peace. They joy is painful.

That pain is righteous. The faithful are disappointed with the world,
outraged at its injustices, weary of its failures and disease. At
Christmas they glimpse anew the love of God that has entered into our
brokenness to restore and recreate us. The good work that has been
begun in them is not yet complete. They are waiting. They are eager for
the end. They are full of fear and love of God and awed by the
magnitude and consistency of grace. Faith is always disaffected with
the world, always eager for the new creation, and on this side of glory
it always hurts.

"Preach to pain," Dr. Deffner used to say, "and you’ll always have active listeners."

Not only that, I say, but you might actually help them. You might give
them some understanding of their suffering, some encouragement that
their suffering is not in vain, and some hope of the Day when what they
long for will be delivered in full.

McCain response:

Dave, I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. Among the many
wonderfully thought-provoking things you’ve posted here, I think this
is truly one of the finest. I would encourage you to expand this into a
full-blown article for the CTQ, or LOGIA.

I have come to a point in my own preaching that I recognize that this is precisely the very thing that is key to making preaching, preaching, as opposed to:

Rhetoricizing (is that a word?)
Musing on certain random irrelevant concepts

To preach to pain; often, to preach through pain, to pain, is what preaching is all about. It is one sinner declaring the reality of sin and the comfort of the Gospel, to another. It is one hungry man saying to hungry people, here is where will find the bread that lasts. It is one man parched with thirst showing others where, and how, to find the living water. It is one sick man saying to sick people, here is healing; one dying, to the dying, pointing them to Life Incarnate.

We tend to come out of seminary believing that if are able to parse
every verb, decline each noun, analyze grammar, syntax and theme,
we will have a good sermon; similarly, we tend to think that if we are able to give a
dogmatic lecture, more fitting for the seminary classroom, or bible
class, we have a good sermon. We are under the impression if we follow a somewhat
slavishly formulaic pattern that goes: law, gospel, come take
communion, we have preached a good sermon. Then, some, in reaction to this, fall into the other ditch: preaching sermon that are not much more than expanded Hallmark greeting cards, or more akin to stand-up routines.

As I read the sermons of the fathers, and listen to good sermons, I am
struck, repeatedly, by precisely what you say in your post. "Good
sermons" — those that reach me the most deeply, that speak to me most
profoundly, are sermons that are actually speaking to the hearer. The
pastor is talking to me. He is preaching to me. He is not trying to
impress some long-distant seminary professor. He is not attempting to
"follow the formula and get it just so." He is not trying to manipulate me.

He is preaching. He is, as you say, preaching to pain. The pain of my
sin is preached to, with clear words of God’s judgment against that
sin. The Gospel is preached concretely so that the great "for you" is
"for me."

The more I ponder these things, the more I come to appreciate and
understand what was said about our Lord, "And looking out on the crowd,
he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a

All of which is to say, Pastor Petersen: well done and many thanks for a fine post!

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Categories: Sermons
  1. December 24th, 2007 at 13:30 | #1

    Can I add an “Amen” to this? When pastors find out where the hearers are and then show them how God’s right there with them, strengthening and leading them through the next minute, hour, day, week, month, and year, the result would be a lot better.
    After all, preaching isn’t about the pastor using any of that long list of tactics Pr McCain posted to try and coerce a certain behavior out of the listeners, but about being used by God to accomplish His Will His Way to yield fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22ff) Such fruits cannot be coerced or cajoled using the tactics of man in a futile attempt to accomplish the work of God, but must come from the working of the Spirit in the hearer.
    “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8

  2. December 24th, 2007 at 14:25 | #2

    I am a member of Pastor Petersen’s congregation and can attest that he is a very gifted preacher. His style is formal but never stuffy. He is always faithful and always challenging. And he is particularly good at saying things in fresh and surprising ways. As a preacher myself, I wholeheartedly agree with his helpful post. It shows the pastoral care aspect of preaching.

  3. Gleason Snashall
    December 24th, 2007 at 15:52 | #3

    Thanks for the insight. It reminds that Jesus openly showed this pastoral concern:
    1. at the tomb of Lazarus, he wept. This would be almost in a rage that sin causes death and suffering.
    2. sorrow at Jerusalem’s response. He knew that he would be slain by this town, but still sorrowed at is rejection.
    3. care for his mother. On the cross, he gave John to his mother as a son who would care for her.
    4. care for all men. On the cross, he spoke to sinners of all ages with the consoling words: forgive them for they know not what they do.
    Perhaps, my biggest consolation is that his blood included me in the family of God as a brother in Christ. Pastor Peterson reflects well that he preaches Christ and him crucified.
    Thanks again for the insight.
    In Christ,

  4. Martin Fabrizius
    December 29th, 2007 at 08:59 | #4

    There is a reason that God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying “”Comfort yes, comfort yes My people” Says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
    Nice post Pr. Peterson.
    In Christ,

  5. January 2nd, 2008 at 18:09 | #5

    I have added you to my list of “reading” in my blog. I am very much interested in learning more about Lutheranism.

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