An established tradition in the United States is Monday morning quarterbacking. It is the backward look at what just happened on Sunday in the NFL. What went wrong? What should the team have done? And since the quarterback is the figure that controls the flow of the game, how did the quarterback do and what could the quarterback have done differently? By the way, sorry if your team lost.
I feel that way about SERMONS. And usually and I think it could be helpful for some Monday “Sermon Backing” or reflecting after the fact about what the sermon said and didn’t say.
I am not exaggerating when I say that for every 25-30 minutes of preaching, I have left out another 1-2 hours of talking time. Every sermon involves a process of ruthless elimination of most of the content and ideas that have been wrestling with during the previous week.
Every Sunday I get feedback from people about what moved them, spoke to them, bothered them, and their observations and questions.
That is exactly what a sermon should do. It should provoke and activate thinking, feeling, reflecting, envisioning and—above all—ACTING on what has been heard.
What also hits me is that so many of the observations and questions are about things that the time just did not allow me to cover.
So all that just to introduce this first Monday Sermon Backing.
ONE: Whatever you focus on grows in importance. It expands to fill your mind and your life. This is behind Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4-9. Take a moment and read that passage. Paul wants us to be extremely careful when it comes to what we think about.
For the last six months, COVID-19 has been the dominant focus and COVID-19 has expanded to dominate our life. COVID-19 has dominated, along with the racial protests and riots, and the upcoming elections. As these things are relentlessly pressed in on our awareness, we focus on them and they become supremely important.
They become more important than Jesus, who gets little of our time. So The Jesus Way is about building habits and rhythms that will allow Jesus to expand and for Jesus to become supremely important in your life.
TWO: The fundamental idea of this week was simple. People (every one of us) are sufficiently bad “tax-collectors and sinners.” And we are all (every one of us) harassed and helpless, hurting, broken, and at risk. To such people, the Way of Jesus is simple.
Bad people need mercy. Hurting people need compassion. The Good News of the Gospel is that is exactly what we receive from God, even when we were powerless, ungodly, and sinful. Even when we were his enemies.
THREE: The Way of the Pharisee is exactly the opposite. By the way, Matthew 23:13-39 is the longest section in all the Gospels where Jesus gives a blistering critique of the Pharisees. Read it and you will see what it means to be a Pharisee. The tragedy is that they did not want mercy or compassion. They did not believe they needed mercy and compassion. They did not give bad people mercy or hurting people compassion.
A Pharisee gives judgement, not mercy, to bad people. A Pharisee is indifferent, not compassionate, for hurting people. A Pharisee separates from and is aloof from the bad and broken. A Pharisee, in essence says to everyone, “you are NOT worth it.”
We must all be aware that there is a “little” (or mid-size) Pharisee inside every one of us. And the stressful time of COVID-19 is activating that Pharisee. Vigilance of what is going on inside is crucial.
FOUR: The last thing is an important follow-up. There are really bad people who do really bad things. While we have a heart of mercy toward them, we also do not allow their really bad things to go unchallenged. Jesus challenged the Pharisees at every turn. Mercy and justice can exist hand in hand. We can—and must—defend the harassed and helpless against those who would hurt them.
And there are a lot of people who need defending and protecting in our culture. In no way does mercy mean you are a passive bystander when bad things happen to others. In fact, Christianity has always had a strong focus on advocating for and working for those “at risk” groups.
Next Week we will look at Choices and Commitments. They define who you are, shape who you will be, and ultimately lead to a legacy and a destiny.
Grace, mercy, and compassion to all of you.