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Recently I had the privilege of preaching at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. It’s always an encouragement for me to experience a vibrant, Christ-centered, mission-oriented church. Thus I felt invogorated to be part of this church for a day.
I preached twice on Sunday morning in the traditional services at HPPC. During the second service, two other worship services were happening on campus: a contemporary service with a band and younger (!) preacher, and the “all nations” service that meets the cultural needs of folk from non-anglo cultures.
Of course I realize that the folk from Highland Park were using a common expression to be affirming. I doubt they chose the verb “to enjoy” with much forethought or intentionality. So I don’t want to over-interpret their meaning, or even to suggest that I’m criticizing those who were so kind to me. On the contrary, I appreciate their gracious words.
But, now that I’m an occasional preacher and regular hearer of sermons, I wonder if enjoyment is, strictly speaking, what one should feel in response to preaching.
I can imagine some preachers and theologians being most unhappy with the “I enjoyed your sermon” comments. In fact, some might even question the effectiveness of my preaching. If people were actually enjoying my sermon, perhaps I was entertaining rather than edifying, titillating rather than teaching. It’s hard to imagine people coming up to Jeremiah after one of his prophetic messages and saying, “I really enjoyed your prophecy this morning.” If people enjoyed my sermon, perhaps that suggests I was failing to do my job as a preacher!
I’m not thinking here of the superficial joy that comes from hearing a preacher’s jokes or a compelling story. Rather, I’m thinking, in part, of the joy that comes when learning something of value. When I hear a sermon that teaches me something about God and his Word, I do feel glad. I truly enjoy learning God’s truth, and am thankful when preachers help me do this.
Yet enjoyment of preaching can flow from something even deeper than learning something valuable. It can come from hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though I have been a Christian for almost five decades, I still need to hear the fact that God loves me and that Christ died for me so that I might experience the fullness of life, both now and forever. I need to hear that God has called me to participate with him in the grand work of renewing creation. If a preacher helps me to hear, really to hear the Gospel, then I am apt to feel joy, the joy of knowing God’s grace, the joy of finding once again my life’s true purpose.
Though preaching ought to create discomfort at times, even bringing a listener to weep with contrition, it ought ultimately to lead to joy. When someone truly and fully communicates the Good News of God, the listeners ought to feel joy, deep joy, genuine joy, transformational joy.
So, when people say to me, “I enjoyed your sermon,” I will receive this compliment as a kind gift. But I will also hope that what people mean is that they have learned something of eternal value from my sermon, most of all that God loves them in Jesus Christ and has a place for them in his great plan for the universe.