It’s quiet today. Only a few people here.
I just had a long conversation (mostly listening) with someone who lives fairly close by who was talking about their car getting shot up a few weeks ago. Apparently the neighbors are part of a pretty big family with a lot of issues, to put it mildly. The neighbor’s house had the windows shot out. One boy was hit in the throat. He’s not yet 21. He might never get there. And there are still bullets in the car somewhere.
How do you minister to people who live like this? How do convey the message of hope in Jesus in the midst of people whose hope is pulling the trigger before the other guy does? How do you preach Jesus to people who think life’s problems can be solved with a .45?
I don’t have a lot of answers. The problem is real, even if it never gets to guns. The hopelessness that invades jobs, bank accounts, marriages and families, and life in general is all over.
No doubt many have just accepted that this is life the way it is. It is risk that they no longer think about. They just play the hand life dealt them, and they play with a decided lack of enthusiasm. It’s just the way it is.
I, like most of my readers, live in a decent neighborhood. For me, these problems are usually at least a short drive or a medium walk away. For many of you, they are even farther away. I don’t know what it’s like to hear gunshots in the streets outside my window. I don’t know what it’s like to make sure my children don’t sleep on an outside wall, just in case.
But many do.
And I know that these are people that desperately need the message of Jesus. They don’t need the message of white middle-class lifestyle and Republican (or Democratic) politics. They don’t need messages about how more faith will help them escape poverty. They don’t need to hear about how Jesus can give them a better sex life. They don’t need exegetical lessons about minute details of Hebrew or Greek.
No, they need much more than these simplistic platitudes.
They need to see how the message of the Bible is the only thing that can explain everything in life, that can truly make sense of the world we live in.
They need to hear that Jesus is the only hope.
So we, in our preaching, we must be concerned about more than the text. Lest that sound like heresy to some, let me quickly add that we must not be concerned about less than the text.
Relevant preaching and teaching is not about slick marketing campaigns complete with billboards, slick invites, great videos. It is not about concordance preaching—doing a word search to find a verse that may address something we want to say. It’s not merely talking about Jesus.
Relevant preaching and teaching is about showing how the text itself is God speaking truth into our lives wherever we are. It must show how the revelation of God explains life—all of it, not just the good parts or the easy parts. And it must be understandable and applicable to the people who sit in front of us.
As I sit here, I am looking at a man about five tables away, engrossed in the Detroit Free Press. Why should he care what I have to say? Why should he care about Jesus’ teaching when he is reading about how close NW253 came to raining down on our neighborhood last week. And how will I show him how God, through the text, is speaking truth to him?
I am looking at a lady at another table. She is in her golden years. How does God speak to her through the text? Why should he care about the Bible when she is worried about whether or not her retirement income will last long enough for her money to outlive her?
I am thinking of a teenager with a gun in his belt. Why should he care about Jesus’ death when he is trying to avoid his own?
I am thinking of a marriage on the verge of divorce. Why should a husband and wife care about the love of God when they hate each other?
Why should anyone follow God when life is like it is?
We must show how God speaks to us through the text. The role of preaching is to make that happen.
Whether it’s the young man with a .45 looking for revenge, the worker with a newspaper looking for safety, or the retiree with a pension hoping to stay retired, God must be heard.
It must be loud and clear.
And we must be his voice.
And it’s not just the pastor’s job. It’s the job of every believer.