The Anatomy of Worship: Preached Word
Topic: Preached Word Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2
I want to start off this morning talking about one of the most unifying things in this world. It is something that is almost universally accepted and even sought after. You can find it virtually anywhere you might be. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your financial status is, or what your past has looked like…virtually all people can find some common ground when we’re talking about this subject. That’s not to say that everyone agrees about it or shares the same opinions. And sure, there might be a few people who are opposed to it or say they don’t like it. The ways in which we can enjoy this commodity are multiple. In fact, we can find an array of variety when we consider it. Truly, sometimes the sheer volume of choices can be paralyzing. Even more, what I’m talking about is something we’re exposed to usually at a very early age. Sometimes it even occupies a few of our warmest memories and possibly even a few treasured family traditions. What I’m talking about, of course, is ice cream.
Ice cream is one of those rare, majestic substances in this world that is as widely diverse as it is widely loved. Most people like ice cream. But we know that it’s not enough to simply answer the question of whether you like ice cream or not, right? It almost goes to the next denominator: what’s your favorite flavor? Chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, black cherry, cookies and cream, coffee, cookie dough? Personally, I hesitate to even mention this as a valid flavor, mint chocolate chip. Everyone has a flavor they prefer but it’s all ice cream. But then we can even go to another arena too, can’t we? Not only flavor but preparation. Some people like soft serve and some like hard scoops. Some people like sundaes and others like milkshakes. While you might love an ice cream sandwich, someone else might like grabbing the pint of Ben and Jerry’s. For some, it’s all about the non-dairy. Even those two factors, flavor and preparation, as closely held as they may be to many of us…even those aren’t what I consider the most divisive detail surrounding that frozen treat we all adore. Sometimes, it’s the location. Many a war have been waged between the brave warriors fighting under the flags of Dairy Queen, Culver’s, and Cold Stone. Some, thinking themselves more refined and skilled in dessert distinction, cast aside those chains and plant their flag with a local or unique vendor. Emack and Bolio’s, Carl’s, Gene’s, and more. The struggle of agreeing where to buy your ice cream can be a cold and bitter battlefield.
In the end, though, most of us like ice cream. Our preferences might be different. And sometimes it’s not just our inclinations that foster those differences. Sometimes it’s what we’ve grown up with or what our families like. And, to be honest, sometimes our preferences change. That’s all fine. I’m realizing now that I’ve missed an opportunity. With all this talk of ice cream, I should have planned an ice cream sundae fundraiser after worship. But I talk about ice cream because I think it relates to an element of our worship, a critical element that sometimes offers as much diverse opinion as to the flavors of ice cream. And that element of worship is the preached word.
We’re about halfway through our Anatomy of Worship message series. We’ve been breaking down and really uncovering a few of the meaningful and central aspects of the worship services here at First Pres. We’ve explored Welcome, Music, and Prayer. This week we turn our attention to this, where we are right now, what’s happening. The sermon, the message, the preached word. And it may be a bit tongue in cheek but the connections between ice cream and the preached word really are staggering.
As it is with ice cream, there are a variety of ways the preached word has been scooped out to those who gather to listen. Everyone has an opinion about sermons. Some like them short… well, most people like them short. Some people want to hear more grace, and some want to hear more conviction. Some fight for a spotlight on current events while others want a deep dive into theology. Some like a verse by verse breakdown of a biblical passage and others want to engage a specific topic or subject. Some prefer the lectionary texts, others like the idea of a series, and some don’t have much of an opinion...other than length, of course. But those that do, those that have a very firm preference for the sermon, they hold those views strongly. But regardless of opinions or points of view, one thing is clear: the Preached Word is a necessary and moving part of the Anatomy of Worship. I want us to look at our second text for this morning before we keep going. We’re in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2.
This text reveals to us the tremendous value and incredible impact there can be in opening the Scriptures together and exploring the truths and mysteries and inspirations we find. In a world riddled and swollen with sources for information, quality, and sanctity must supersede ease of access or a likeness to our own opinions. We are flooded with voices, panels, and platforms that want to educate, inspire or inform us. No one is in need of another opinion but if you were there is a countless number of them waiting to be adopted. But Paul, here in 2 Timothy, does not offer Scripture and preaching as just another of those voices. Instead, the Word of God we find in Scripture and the intentional and careful explorations of it - we make within our services of worship are spoken of by Paul as a source above and beyond others. A source of conviction, wisdom, direction, calling, and holiness.
Paul lays out the multiple and meaningful uses of Scripture when it comes, not only to the church but also to each of our own individual walks with God. While there have been and continue to be creative ways God’s people have engaged and shared the unassailable truths of Scripture, it is the Preached Word that has been the long-held practice of Christians throughout the history of our faith. Whether it was delivered in the crowded street of an ancient middle eastern city, an ornate sanctuary adorned with precious metals and stained glass, or the living room of a house church…the preached word has been a source of inspiration, conviction, and renewal for countless throughout the ages.
And even though opinions about sermon style or even the skill of a preacher may vary, the value and need for the preached word is something that cannot be contested. This is perhaps truer for John Calvin than it has been for many theologians and pastors. Calvin, a defining voice in the Reformation and one of the forefathers of the Presbyterian church, believed that a service of worship was not complete or whole without the preached word. Calvin held extremely high esteem for Scripture and believed that the inspiration fostered within the pages of Scripture was pure and spiritual food for all people. Preaching, for Calvin, was the means of distributing that food to the hungry masses.
Sometimes the words of a sermon are used by God to expose a person to the truth of Scripture they are desperately in need of hearing. For the lost, it might be a call home. For the anxious, it could be a steadying calm. For the one trapped in sin, it could be a convicting call to repentance and change. It could be a word of hope, justice, forgiveness, or calling. As a preacher, I can tell you that sometimes I come to the pulpit and I am praying the Lord reveals something specific to the church that I love. And other times, more times than I can count really, God surprises me. Dave Gaffron and I often laugh about this. Having served as a minister himself, he is well-aware of the joys and trials of preaching. He’s joked with me how, after a sermon, a member of his church would come to him and thank him for sharing this or that in his message. And when they walked away, he would think, “When did I say that?”
Whether the preacher plans it or not, the Lord does something with the offering made in each sermon. Thomas Long has taught preaching at several different seminaries and was once named one of the 12 most effective preachers along with the ranks of individuals like Barbara Brown Taylor and Billy Graham. In his renowned book, The Witness of Preaching, Long said this about the preached word within worship: “When the church goes to Scripture, it finds that there, unlike anywhere else, its life is nurtured and empowered by Christ and its identity re-formed.” If we have ears and hearts to listen, something profound and transformational can be done within our hearing of the preached word.
Now, I have to be honest and confess something. It is not lost on me how me preaching a message about the power and necessity of the preached word could be seen as a bit of a conflict of interest. It feels a little bit like writing a glowing review for my own product. But this is where I lean into the hope that I have that my church knows my heart. I trust that you know I do not stand before you each week in order to collect accolades or toot my own horn. That’s not to say I don’t love this element of my call. I truly do and there are few places where I feel more alive in my vocation than in spaces such as this.
But my encouragement to all of you is this: we have moments, chapters of our lives where we are desperate to hear the Lord speak to us. We might be in need of direction, rejuvenation, or affirmation. The Lord can speak in many ways and spaces. But friends, in countless assemblies just like this all over the world, the Word of God is opened and shared with those who would listen. And it is one my most sincere beliefs that the Lord has a word for each and every person who walks into this space every Sunday. So, I implore you to do the one thing: listen.
The ways in which we can hear it are as multiple as are the flavors of ice cream. The person who offers it to us will vary from time to time. There will be times where we are hungry for it and times where we wish to pass it up. And yet, it remains available to us. The Anatomy of Worship would not be complete without the Preached Word.