A couple of Sundays ago when I was in London I heard two preachers. In the morning I worshipped at the church where I began my ordained ministry nearly fifty years ago. The preacher expounded the story of John 21:1-14 where Jesus appeared to the disciples, helped them to find their catch of fish and prepared breakfast for them on the side of the lake. He covered every point in the passage. The final point was about the friendship of Jesus. It was faithful to the text, competent, well-prepared, sincere, but it lacked life, enthusiasm, passion and was somewhat impersonal, although its topic was personal. The preacher did not share his own testimony and the challenge of friendship today: how difficult it is to make and maintain friendships and how people are hungry for being friended in this social media culture. The message lacked urgency. It was not life-changing.
In the evening I decided to drop into the Roman Catholic Church that was next door to my hotel. The preacher took Acts 2:37 – the question asked by those who listened to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – “What shall we do?” He compared Peter’s answer, “Repent and baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”, with the Protestant evangelical call to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. He argued that the response is not about Jesus and the Bible (!) but about the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Mass (Acts 2:46) provided by the apostolic magisterium of the Church. He maintained that the call of Jesus to go into all the world and baptize etc., was to the twelve apostles not to everyone. Although, as I read the Scripture, at the Ascension when Jesus gave that Great Commission he addressed more than the twelve. The call to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord is the message of Baptism. Nevertheless, despite his faulty exegesis of Scripture and his misrepresentation of evangelicals, I found his preaching more interesting than the evangelical preacher I heard in the morning. Why? Because he shared his own experience of being called to the ordained ministry. He gave his own testimony, he was personal and he engaged some of the issues of the day – the call to ministry.
The lesson I took away from these two preachers was: be faithful to the text, preach the Gospel, be personal, engage the issues, tell your story, give your testimony, make it come alive, stick to the main point and drive it home, don’t try to cover everything in the passage – be interesting.
While I did not agree with the Roman Catholic preacher I did enjoy his homily, while I found the evangelical boring. The evangelical could have shared his own experience of friendship: long-standing friendships of youth and college, and attempts at making friends – some successful, and more often unreciprocated – how Jesus wants to be our friend and what that means. Can we be lonely if we have Jesus as our friend?
Pentecost reminds us that the fire and wind of the Spirit through the disciples arrested people and caused them to want to respond. There is an urgency about the message of Peter.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: “Do not quench the fire, do not quench the Spirit…Christianity means warmth, it means a glow…The Apostle Paul breaks some of the rules of grammar; he interrupts his own argument. It is because of the fire. We are so decorous, we are so controlled, we do everything with such decency and order that there is no life, there is no warmth, there is no power! But that is not New Testament Christianity…Does your faith melt and move your heart? Does it get rid of the ice that is in you, the coldness in your heart, and the stiffness? The essence of New Testament Christianity is this warmth that is invariably the result of the presence of the Spirit” (The Christian Warfare, p.273f.)