SERMON: Becoming Like God – Cost vs Worth
BIO: As Pastor of Christian Education (Adult) at Centennial Road Church in Brockville, Ontario, Aaron oversees and organizes the discipleship ministry which includes small groups, support groups, group Bible studies, and conferences. He also serves on the teaching team. Aaron and his wife moved to Brockville in 2009. Centennial Road is a Wesleyan church that averages around 450 on a weekend and seeks to serve as a regional church for our surrounding communities. Aaron encourages preachers to “Work to sense the good news of the gospel so strongly that you can’t wait to proclaim it!”
Lenny: First of all, I love the “laughing guy” in the beginning of the audio sermon who did not seem to realize his microphone was on. Who was that guy? More importantly, why did you sense the need to begin the message with a humorous anecdote? Is this typical of your preaching or a device for this particular sermon?
Aaron: Our Lead Pastor, Eric Hallett, is a true encourager. He probably left his microphone on so that just in case the joke fell flat, I wouldn’t hear crickets. I liked this story because it combined humour and the sermon’s theme in a natural way. You always have to be careful with canned-humour, but in this case the theme of the sermon and the joke paired really well. I don’t always open with humour, but when an introduction includes humour, emotional poignancy, and fits the sermon’s theme the result is truly memorable. I had the chance with this one, and went for it.
Lenny: Your message focused primarily on loving like God loves, which includes the mandate to love our enemies. In Jesus’ Jewish context, the enemies were Romans and any Jews who compromisingly cooperated with the Roman government. Who are the “enemies” of your particular local church? In other words, which group or person seems most difficult for your people to love?
Aaron: Neighbours, co-workers, bosses, brothers, sisters, parents, spouses, etc. I think the easy way around this passage is to deny that I have any enemies and so Jesus’ words don’t impact me deeply. But once I reflect on the reality of life, then I have to deal with real people who run on my continuum of relationship somewhere between “very best friend” and “mortal enemy.”
Lenny: Your message was very Wesleyan in that it defined “perfection” as holy, God-like love for all people, including enemies. Some of our listeners might say, “Duh, of course a Wesleyan Church already knows that holiness is defined by love.” However, you and I have served as pastors long enough to know that sometimes Wesleyans put the emphasis of holiness on a syllable other than love. How have you seen this played out in your ministry context?
Aaron: My temptation is always to pin holiness down, to name it as specific actions, disciplines, and attitudes. This is tempting because once completely defined, then holiness is under our control. When we lose the relational nature of holiness as perfect love, then the next step is to set it up as a list, even if the list might change—for example, from holiness being defined as no dancing and no movies to holiness being defined as buying domestic clothing and always recycling.
Lenny: As a staff pastor, you are not the primary preacher for the church you serve. What are some of the pros and cons of preaching as a staff pastor? For instance, one of the pros for me when I preached as a staff pastor was that I had two months to focus on one sermon. The con, of course, is having so much to say I tried to say too much in one sermon. What are some other pros and cons when it comes to preaching occasionally as a staff pastor?
Pro: Recovery time- Whether after a single sermon or a four-part series, I know I have extended recovery time once it is over.
Pro: You can exemplify team. I love being able to support the vision the lead pastor is setting out or an event that a colleague is championing through the sermon. Those things are expected of the lead pastor, but staff pastors can embody team in those moments too.
Pro: You develop other avenues for teaching. Whether in personal conversations, small group, or another avenue, when all your spiritual eggs aren’t in the preaching basket, you are forced to develop multiple means of communication.
Con: Lack of practice. Preaching, like any skill, requires practice to improve.
Lenny: Aaron, I really appreciated some of your play on comparisons like life and death, as well as cost and worth. I think these concepts anchored the focus of your sermon, tying it together in one trajectory. Your sermon was not built on points, though it had a point to make. Walk us through the structure of this sermon by telling us how the sermon journeyed from move to move?
Aaron: I love Eugene Lowry’s narrative plot. Lowry’s homiletical form has a series of moves and I’ve gradually modified it to reflect my own style. These are the moves I try to make:
1. Conflict: What grabs the listener? What knocks them off kilter? I tried this with the idea of cost vs. worth and the story of Fred and Millie.
2. Complication: This is the problem of the passage. Why does the passage make us feel uncomfortable? Why does Jesus have to teach this and people don’t just practice it on their own? This is where preaching goes deep into the complexity of life. I used the story of the Christmas / Holiday Tree here as an example of a common-sense response that didn’t match Jesus’ words.
3. Shift: This is where the theme of the sermon, taken to its deepest level through the Complication, gets turned on its head. Jesus makes this move himself by comparing his listeners to their very enemies if they only love when it is easy. That kind of love costs them nothing and is worth nothing.
4. Good News: The Good News is that when we do precisely what others don’t do—love indiscriminately—that we are like God. And yet this love is not developed by our own effort, but by God’s grace through our commitment to him. I tried to camp here for a while, offering force through the Old Testament prophecies from Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
5. Unfolding: I then moved into unfolding the Good News as our commitment to God involves the death of self through the cross of Christ. The route to indiscriminate love comes through Christ’s death and then our own death to self through commitment to God. This makes sense because this is the very nature of God. And here we see why it costs us everything, but why it is worth more than the whole world.
6. Implications: Where does this good news impact my life? In this case, I spoke briefly of the lure of wealth and materialism and moved into the implication that this is only good news, not because of what material blessing we receive, but because it promises the presence of God.
7. Communal Practice: Finally, we practice communion as a tangible response or practice of the sermon, still trying to focus on the sermon’s theme of cost vs. worth.