conversation with a 15 year old… thoughts on preaching and Matthew 3
December 13, 2007
Wasn’t feeling much like blogging the past few days, but maybe I’m back now. My little brother of 15 was visiting me the past two days. We get along very well, and share many interests, so we spent some hours discussing literature (Fantasy in general, where he can teach me a lot, especially when we start on Tolkien, which is the author that receive the most attention, I don’t think the world know many 15 year olds that have such a vast knowledge of Tolkien’s mythology, and Sci-fi, where I at least can still feel that I know a little bit more) mostly, but also just talking life, getting onto church from time to time, even a little bit of theology from time to time.
At one stage he was telling me about his youth group, and about the conversations they have at the group, and how he enjoy the fact that they can share thoughts, and that no one preaches at them. He said that he didn’t like it when people preach, and that he seriously don’t think that anyone will change because of a sermon.
Well, I had to preach last Sunday, next Sunday, and maybe for years to come, but we have never squirmed at critical conversation in our house, and my brother obviously didn’t attempt at making my task easier. But I had some mixed feelings, on the one hand I guess I try to defend what I am doing week after week, on the other, I completely agree with his feelings, and have expressed it over and over, on this blog as well. And what he said was another confirmation that at least some part of an upcoming generation (although he keep on reminding me that they are of a different generation than I am, although it’s only a 7 year difference!!!), isn’t very comfortable with the way we do church.
OK, but somehow I have to preach on Sunday, so I decided to test my ideas on the little expert sitting in front of me, knowing that he won’t think twice to let me know if he think I’m doing something absurd. I told him about my last sermon, also said he could read it if he wanted to give a critical evaluation. I was preaching from Matthew 3:1-12, focusing on the summary of John’s preaching in verse 2: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”, and what this repentance would mean by contrasting it to his critique of the Jewish leaders in verse 7-9, and using the metaphor of fruit to clarify the meaning of repentance. Throughout the sermon I used the metaphor of two roads, and contrasted the two roads within this passage, the one being John’s repentance, the other the religious road of the leaders, with that of our classical understanding of two roads, the one consisting of doing bad things and ending in hell, the other of doing good things and ending in heaven (since the Jewish leaders were doing many of the things we would consider good, but were on an alternative route than what John was preaching). Well, I then explained repentance as an alternative lifestyle, but not one consisting of church attendance and religious rituals, but rather of how we interact with people and society around us (see also Matthew 5-7). But there I stopped, I didn’t see my role as the one to apply this to the life of the congregation, all I could do was point the way, attempt to make John’s preaching alive to them, to make Matthew’s message alive to them, but they would have to apply this to their own lives. What I did do was stress the fact that repentance is what we constantly do, attempting to figure out this alternative lifestyle in our daily life.
And when I finished up explaining my last sermon to my little brother. He just said that this wasn’t preaching. And after he did some explaining I understood. The problem he had wasn’t with someone talking, the problem he had was with someone attempting to tell others about all the things they are doing wrong, and that, he told me, won’t change anybody. He said that if he sit in church, and someone tell him that he is doing something wrong, even if he know this to be true, that won’t change a thing, he have to figure it out for himself before he will change anything. Then he just said that what I did was exactly what his youth leader will do, simply at some point saying, “I read this interesting verse this week, what do you think about it”, and that after a sermon like this, he and his friends can go and discuss what this mean for them, and thus, he would like it.
Well, the reason I tell this is not to tell you that some 15 year old think I had a good sermon, but rather to link onto some of the things I’ve been writing the past few weeks, and pointing out how my head work when I think about preaching, when we come to the point where someone have to stand up and do the monologue thing (I still would have enjoyed some interaction and conversation, even within the church).