I think sometimes we get things precisely dead wrong. We’re rather good at it in fact. Jesus focused on the hurting, the helpless, and the hopeless. He came for the sick, I recall him once saying in the gospels. Sure, he had plenty to say to the self righteous but none of it was good.
I think our preaching can often go the opposite direction. We cater to the well and act as though the sick aren’t really among us, sitting in the pews, let alone standing in the pulpit. Just wait until someone has a moral failure, we will treat them in the church as though we are somehow better or immune to such weaknesses. Let them live in a leper’s colony for an adequate amount of time so they might properly bask in their shame. Maybe then we will let them come back among us but only if they agree to indefinitely wear a scarlet letter.
But what if we changed? What if we preached the way Jesus lived? What if we preached our sermons as though we need the grace we speak of as much as everyone else, sometimes even more? What if we spoke as though we seriously need it, not just some vague pious passing comment at the beginning of our sermon about being the chief of sinners, but as though our lives depend upon grace, as though every word we speak is a display not of our own merits but of the undeserved kindness of God in Christ?
What if we spoke to lepers, beggars, adulterers, harlots, with words of truth and grace? What if we spoke to those plundered by pride, those given to gossip, or those beset by gluttony with words of truth and grace that showed that acceptable sinners who struggle with acceptable sins are really no better than unacceptable sinners who struggle with unacceptable sins? What if we spoke to people who fudge on their taxes as if that is a sin that required every bit as much of Jesus’ blood as the person with whom we cast corporate eyes of disdain for their apparent sinfulness?
I think our preaching could be radically different, profoundly more like Jesus, if we learn to care for the hurting, the helpless, and the hopeless with the way we use our words and craft our messages. Maybe we can preach like Jesus if we we were intent to not allow our rhetoric to break a bruised reed, if we resolved to guard and protect a smoldering wick and gently fan the flame that is on the brink of being extinguished. Maybe then we wouldn’t be impressed with our alliterated outlines if they are devoid of care and disconnected from real people.
Maybe then we would weight every word we speak with grace.
Maybe then we would learn to preach like Jesus lived.
That would be quite a sermon.