Years ago, a church member told me about a conversation she had had with a young person in the church about the experience of attending worship. I have forgotten the whole discussion, but I will always remember the conclusion. When it came to preaching, in particular, this young person surmised that the pastors “pretty much say the same thing every week.”
It was an observation, not a criticism, and a pretty perceptive one. Especially in Lutheran theology, the core purpose of preaching is always the same: to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection, a declaration that frees us from condemnation, and makes us new creatures in Christ.
That does raise a question, however. If the message in Christian worship is always “pretty much the same thing,” why keep coming back to hear it? This has been a question and concern for Christians from the very beginning.
- Already in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews warn his readers about “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (10:25)
- In the Middle Ages, when Christian influence was at its peak, the Church still had to resort to a law that people had to come to confession and communion at least once a year.
- At the time of the American Revolution, church attendance as a percentage of the population was lower than it is now.
- Today, due to work, organized activities, lack of free time during the week and many other reasons, Sunday mornings are busy as never before, and Christian faith seems to be increasingly disconnected from attending worship.
So it’s an important question. Why would we keep coming back week after week to hear “pretty much the same thing”? If we think of the Gospel as just information, as a message for us to understand rationally and accept as true, there may not be much reason. We can remember information like that from one week to the next.
The Gospel, though, is not just rational. It’s relational. Much more than conveying facts and ideas, God uses it to establish and maintain a relationship with us as our Heavenly Father.
The Gospel is God’s chief way of saying, “I love you.” In any loving relationship, those are words we need to hear over and over again, words that can never be spoken too often. It is not a matter of understanding what they mean, but rather what they do to us, how they change us and renew us.
That is why God calls us to gather together around Word and sacrament, week after week after week. He wants to make sure that we hear, know, trust and rejoice that He loves us—loves us enough to send Christ to the cross to forgive our sin and redeem us from death.
So, yeah, pretty much that same message is proclaimed every week in worship—and thank God that it is! It’s the best, most life-giving message that your or I could possibly hear, so put it at the top of your priority list. Don’t miss even one chance for Christ Jesus to take you in his nail-scarred hands and speak that glorious, divine promise, “I love you.”
Grace and peace,
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