October 2010

I have always heard and agreed with the statement that the preaching and hearing of a sermon is just as much an act of worship as times of singing or prayer, but I don’t think I had reasoned out why the sermon is worship as well as Charles Spurgeon does in the following passage:

If the observation be meant to imply that the hearing of sermons is not worshipping God, it is founded on a gross mistake indeed, for rightly to listen to the gospel is one of the noblest parts of the adoration of the Most High. It is a mental exercise, when rightly performed, in which all the faculties of the spiritual man are called into devotional action. Reverently hearing the word exercises our humility, instructs our faith, irradiates us with joy, inflames us with love, inspires us with zeal, and lifts us up towards heaven. Many a time a sermon has been a kind of Jacob’s ladder upon which we have seen the angels of God ascending and descending, and the covenant God himself at the top thereof. We have often felt when God has spoken through his servants into our souls, ‘This is none other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven.’ We have magnified the name of the Lord and praised him with all our heart while he has spoken to us by his Spirit which he has given to men. Hence there is not the wide distinction to be drawn between preaching and prayer that some would have us admit; for the one part of the service softly blends into the other, and the sermon frequently inspires the prayer and the hymn. True preaching is an acceptable adoration of God by the manifestation of his gracious attributes: the testimony of his gospel, which pre-eminently glorifies him, and the obedient hearing of revealed truth, are an acceptable form of worship to the Most High, and perhaps one of the most spiritual in which the human mind can be engaged. (Lectures to My Students, “Our Public Prayer”, pg 53)


My wife and I rented Flash of Genius the other night, which chronicles the real-life journey Robert Kearns as he takes on the Ford motor company for stealing his invention, the intermittent wiper. While some of the facts of the story are surely untrue, the fact that he sacrificed his marriage, his mental health, and, in the end, his life’s energy to seek justice for himself appears to be very true. And very sad. The movie ends, not surprisingly, with Kearns winning his suit against the Ford Motor Company and eventually against the Chrysler Corporation, netting him nearly 30 million dollars. But throughout the movie it was emphasized that the fight wasn’t about money – it was about justice and seeing what is right done. It was about him teaching his children and the world about the courage of standing up for what is fair. But what was intended to be triumphant struck me as depressing. The movie ends with Kearns celebrating the victory around a restaurant table with his six children, who he has been absent from except for their visits to help him with his trial, and with his wife painfully absent, having left him years earlier. But he has found justice, so I’m supposed to rejoice.

Andrea and I had some great discussions over the next 24 hours, so the movie was successful in my mind. And one of our discussions was around the theme of justice. I believe in justice, and I believe God is a God who rejoices in justice. Yet I also believe that He is a God who would have me forsake the pursuit of justice if it meant that I was sacrificing the health of my family and my own mental stability. At that point, Andrea made a very wise observation, namely that maybe we are primarily to seek justice for others but not always (or ever?) for ourselves. That we are to seek the welfare of widows and orphans and the oppressed and the wronged, that we are to call people to be justified by God through Christ, but that we are to most often leave our personal vindication to the hands of the One who does all things well (Rom. 12:19).

I thought of Jesus and the cross, where God, in love, became just and the justifier. Where sin was justly paid for, but where, in the process, an amazing injustice was done to Christ. Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, suffered an excruciating and unjust judgment. He did not seek his own justification, but ours, and modeled that we are to pursue justice for others above ourselves, and maybe at the expense of our own vindication. Such is the call of the Christ-like life:

Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other then you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view. Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, “every tongue shall confess” that Jesus Christ” is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11, Phillips Translation