Is the goal of relevancy necessary, helpful, or a curse?

Today I offer some thoughts on sermons and relevancy prompted by the book, “The Givenness of Things”, by Marilynne Robinson.

1. We speak of the sacred
“My tradition places great importance on the sermon, and I go in hopes of hearing something that acknowledges this deep old human intuition, this sense of the sacred. Often I don’t hear any such thing, but sometimes, more remarkably, I do. A good sermon is a pure, rare, strangely unworldly gift.” 141

The Western environment in which I live over-elevates the solving of mystery which leads to an impoverishment of our spirits. I am glad the mystery of what causes pneumonia has been solved. But in our preaching God is someone more to be described than explained.

2. We speak of life and death
“My church is across the street from a university, where good souls teach with all sincerity – the factually true, insofar as this can really be known; the history of nations, insofar as this can be faithfully reported; the qualities of an art, insofar as they can be put into words. But to speak in one’s own person and voice to others who listen from the thick of their endlessly various situations, about what truly are or ought to be matters of life and death, this is a singular thing. For this we come to church.” 146

What do the scientific and historical facts point to? What do the artistic qualities reach for and reflect? It is of this that we speak. Matters of life and death.

“Day-old journalism is used for wrapping fish. But hymnals and Bibles are costly and durable.” 150

The challenge for speakers is to be relevant without being captured by the need to be relevant. Jesus spoke of contemporary issues connected to his audience: “those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4 NIV11)

But, was his goal relevance? The parables describe the Kingdom, but do not explain it – at least not in every detail. They do not answer every question, but stimulate questions.

Perhaps we could look at it like this. We use relevance to demonstrate that God understands and cares. His wisdom, revealed in Christ and the Scriptures is helpful in the here and now. But, the demonstration of relevance is not our goal. Our goal is to reveal the one who is beyond relevance. The one who can never be fully explained, but who can be worshipped, adored, loved.

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Keep calm and carry on teaching.

God bless, Malcolm