Well, that’s a new one, since I come from a region notorious for Spy-gate and Deflate-gate. But that’s sports, this isn’t. As one who is concerned about The Church today, “Sermongate” by Ruth Graham in the New York Times, grabbed my attention.
According to the article, some preachers lift material from other preachers, then preach it as theirs. As one who’s heard many a sermon, I’m pretty sure a fair number could’ve used some outside help. Mine, too. But outside help isn’t the point.
Maybe some of it falls on the shoulders of those of us who fill the pews. We expect so much of pastors and priests. They’re to be counselors, fund-raisers, community bridge-builders and peacekeepers. Ministers must be skilled at marrying and burying, model perfect families and stellar marriages. And most important, create a rousing sermon, fit for publication week after week. Oh, and often underpaid and understaffed, if at all.
But the ones mentioned in Graham’s article aren’t struggling alone in some small church. They made the big time with a little help from their friends. “One of them, after being congratulated on a strong sermon, offered an aside to an on-line service, like Sermon Central and Logos, ‘Thanks for making me look good.’ “
And that, for me, is the heart of the problem within too much of The Church and the likes of me. We want to look good without being good. Truth matters less than how we appear or than our personal or tribe’s belief system. Alas, truth’s suspect, undervalued and debatable in more than politics. One of the Southern Baptist preachers, Adrian Rogers, didn’t think it was all that bad to use material from another preacher. His view? “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it, but use your own powder.” Frightening analogy.
Here’s an idea. If it’s late Saturday night and there’s nothing left in the tank, haul out The Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5) It’s short, to the point and it’ll preach. And while free for the taking, it’s costly to deliver.
Just ask Jesus.
P.S. I wrote this with a deep awareness of my own sloppy, lazy, cheating bent and an apology to all the faithful men and women who wrestle with texts, hunt illustrations, give credit for outside sources and invite God’s Spirit to bless their words for the sake of the hungry sheep they love.
And, as one of your balky, bruised but blessed sheep, thank you for tending me with and without words. Your hard, creative work to stay connected during the pandemic’s kept me and many others from losing hope. And come Saturday or sooner, may God bless you with a fresh “word from the Lord” for the next time you’re called upon to teach, preach, fill-in or share The Truth, especially when most of us prefer to feel good more than to be or do good.
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