Summary: God describes the two key elements that comprise a great sermon in His eyes
If you received yesterday’s State newspaper than you saw the striking headline, “Lou: Locker room or boardroom, Holtz can fire ‘em up.” I suppose that headline is no surprise considering that we live in the hometown of the University of South Carolina and yesterday was the dawn of the 2001 Gamecock football season. Though the headline wasn’t surprising something in the article itself startled me. As the author was talking about Lou Holtz’s unique ability to motivate people he wrote this interesting observation, “At the end of Holtz’s rambling, prototypical 20-minute talk they give him a standing ovation. What exactly did he say? A couple of listeners admit they aren’t quite sure, but they liked it. A lot.” (The State Newspaper, September 1, 2001, No. 244, front-page article written by Bob Gillespie.)
I find that frightening – that people can like a speaker – a lot – without really knowing what he’s saying. Perhaps that reality isn’t all that big a deal when it comes to talking about fans liking a football coach – after all – the only people whose success depends on understanding what the coach says are his players. But when that truth is considered in the realm of religion it is terribly frightening. After all we’re all players in that realm, and we all want to be successful, that is, we all want to win the eternal prize of heaven. For that very purpose we call pastors to speak to us and guide us on the road to eternal, spiritual success. So it only makes sense that if we are to like a pastor – and like him a lot – it is vitally important that our admiration is built on understanding.
But what should we be listening for that would prompt us to like a pastor a lot? In the text for this morning God himself offers us guidance. God identifies two key elements that make a pastor and his sermonizing something we will like a lot. God says that a great sermon is one where the pastor I) doesn’t mix up God’s Word. God also says that a great sermon is one where the pastor II) doesn’t mince God’s Word. If those two, key elements are present in a sermon then God himself declares, “Great sermon, pastor!”
Unfortunately there were pastors, called prophets, in Jeremiah’s day who wanted the compliments but didn’t care if they were preaching God’s Word. These preachers insulted the true God imagining that he was just as powerless as all of the other national gods of the nations surrounding Judah. In the minds of these preachers the true God was no more concerned about pure teaching than any of the other gods were. Besides, they figured, if we aren’t in his temple he can’t hear what we’re saying anyway.
Those assumptions were reflected in their preaching. They weren’t so concerned about saying what the true God said – they were more concerned about preaching what the people wanted to hear. They loved to substitute their own ideas and notions and pass them off as God’s Word as though God had spoken directly to them in dreams. Instead of allowing the timeless truths of God’s Word shape their beliefs and teachings, essentially, they determined what they would teach based on popular opinion polls arguing that doctrine is just a matter of one’s own interpretation. As a result they really didn’t care what people believed – just so long as those people kept coming back in bigger and bigger numbers, complimenting the preacher on his oratory skills, and filling the offering plate with lots of cash.
God makes it clear that their preaching, though done with smooth talk and flattery, though very attractive to large numbers of people, and well-polished, does not qualify as great in his eyes. In fact, it’s not even good. God makes it clear that he hears and sees everything they are doing. He considers their work an abomination. After all they don’t even have the integrity to identify their dreams and opinions as merely human ideas. Instead they were content to mix those things together with God’s Word and pass off the whole package as God’s Word. As a result God declares that they have fed their listeners with lies. They are content to mix the grain, the solid food of God’s Word, with the straw, the junk food of human wisdom. They were very zealous in their work, but they weren’t bringing people closer to God. In reality through their preaching and teaching they were actually tempting God’s people to forget God’s name. They were tempting God’s people to abandon the true God and worship a god that their own imagination had concocted not unlike what their forefathers had done in worshiping Baal.
Despite the passage of time things haven’t changed much have they? Countless preachers today – gifted speakers, eloquent, friendly, and with charismatic personalities have contented themselves to mix the truth of God’s Word with error and their listeners don’t seem to care that they are being fed with lies. The truths of God’s Word have been decimated under the battle cry, “That’s your interpretation!” Denomination after denomination has fallen to the dreams and delusions of the arrogant human mind that proceeds with egotistical conceit to make itself the final judge of what Scriptural teachings to accept and which to reject. If our changeless God condemned that same type of attitude and activity in the Old Testament as one that led people away from him then we have no reason to believe that his verdict has changed about the matter today.