Sermons, Slippery eels, fire hydrants, and a few fathomless truths

Sometimes, writing a sermon is like attempting to get a solid grip on a skittish eel which has been lathered up with super-slippery-solution. (Whoa, there was a significant amount of alliteration in that sentence. Unintentional, I promise!) At least for me, one of the greatest challenges of writing a sermon is focus. Not mental focus as I’m writing it, mind you, but rather the difficulty comes in the fact that there are is so much I could say. In a single passage of Scripture there might be depths of theology/philosophy/practical spirituality which would suffice to last 10 sermons, and attempting to pin the text down in order to wrestle out a digestible amount of truth is like trying to pin down a slippery, squirming, serpentine eel (alliteration again…but that time was on purpose. Sorry!). Every time you think you’ve got it pinned down it seems to turn or twist, and you see another angle of truth, or another thought strikes you, or another illustration, or another similar Scripture which could be used to explain the one at hand.

Perhaps another apt description is one I often use: attempting to focus a sermon down into a digestible amount of truth**(teachers/preachers: see note @ bottom) is like attempting to drink from a fire hydrant. You just have to sort of stick your face in there and try to catch a little of what’s pouring out. Water’s splashing out everywhere, and you have to step back every second or two in order to catch your breath while water drips down your face and out of your nose. The easiest thing in the world, when crafting a sermon, would be to act like a fire hydrant (and alas, I’ve done it more than a few times), but that’s not the most helpful or pleasant thing in the world.

So, the reason for all this musing on the difficulty of focusing a sermon is that I have several pages of notes which probably will not make it into the final product this week. One set of thoughts in particular, though, I still want to share. It’s the fodder for a sermon on it’s own, and isn’t the side of the eel I’ve pinned down for this week.

Without further verbosity, here are a few incredibly glorious truths about the incarnation of Christ:

How must we apply the truth of John 1:14 — “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” — in a practical way? 

First, we must consider the ETERNALITY of the incarnation: 
          When the Word took on flesh, He took it on for eternity. The Word which became flesh will always be flesh.
          — And this is our hope: that since He was made like us in flesh, we will be made like Him in glory. He is the pattern of our future.
           * 1 John 3:2 – “…we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Second, we must consider the REALITY of the incarnation:
          Jesus wasn’t God wearing a human costume, but was fully man, even while being fully God.
          — And this is our life: that we are being made like Him. He is the pattern for our present.
           * 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.

Third, we must consider the PROMISE of the incarnation:
          Jesus, as one who was fully man, was kept from sin and rebellion by the power of God working in Him. The Spirit of God kept the Son of God holy. 
          — And this is our trust: the He can keep us, and make us like Himself. He is the power which conforms us to the pattern.
           * 1 Peter 1:5 – “…through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power.”
           * Romans 8:30 – “…those [God] justified, he also glorified.

Lastly, we must consider the ASSURANCE of the incarnation:
          Jesus came for a purpose which had been set before the world’s foundation: to display love.
          — And this is our comfort: that God loves us and values us. When you doubt this truth, consider the incarnation of Christ as evidence of the fact that God loves the world, and you personally. 
           * John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He sent His Son...”
           * Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

These truths of the incarnation of Jesus, as the Word taking on flesh and dwelling among us, are the ground of our hope and faith. We believe that we will be made like Him one day, that our flesh with be clothed in deity, just as His deity was clothed in flesh. But we also believe that there is promise for the present; that the risen Christ has become the power which has already begun to conform us to His image, and will continue to sanctify us until the day of His return. And for all eternity, Christ has become the full and clear evidence of the love which God has for we who are of flesh in the world. 

He is good!

**What I mean by “a digestible amount of truth” is simple: I get 30-40 minutes a week to teach my congregation at large. That’s less than the length of any grade-school or college class. That means if I want people to actually walk away with something tangible, I must give them something manageable. Clarity, precision, and emphasis can accomplish a great deal and allow people to absorb more, but there is a point at which minds/hearts become full. If we get to that point, it’s dollars to donuts that most of my congregation is going to remember nothing from the sermon in a week’s time, and that’s being generous. It’s not that people are stupid or unable to comprehend spiritual things – not at all! It’s simply that we can only digest so much in a single sitting. It takes me a week or more to prepare a sermon. That’s a week of sitting and thinking and studying and mulling the truth of the Scripture. And it is unfair and discourteous of me to uncaringly fling a truckload of stuff at those present rather than giving them the opportunity to genuinely wrestle with a handful of things. The truth is this: a truckload of info might be interesting during the hearing of it, but if it’s lost shortly thereafter it’s of no more lasting value than a television show that entertains for a half hour. If I desire to encourage and aid in lasting change, I must work to root truth deeply in the heart. That means working slowly, though steadily and irresistibly. Choose one or two truths, sharpen the point of it as precisely and clearly as possible through the week, and then drive the sharp tip of that truth as deeply into the hearts of the congregation as I possibly can in the short time given me on Sunday morning. I commend this to you as a methodological axiom and foundational principle for preaching.

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