|Negative sermons are best used
to repel ideas and issues put forth by people who are trying to erase or
sink the spiritual heritage that mankind so badly needs to save for the good
of civilization. A sermon
whose theme is trying to repulse the liberals who are united to dilute
morality or abolish the vision of God is a needed argument and hopefully effective.
If the good ship of civilization is not to sink, some anti-life ideas should be well repulsed. Toleration of anti-life affirmative ideas should be allowed or tolerated in society, only all these ideas should not be passively welcomed or encouraged. Toleration does not imply acceptance. It means simply a free market in ideas, but not necessarily falling for or purchasing all the nonsense allowed in the free market. On the other hand, in a free market buyers should learn to be discriminating in the better sense of the word. Sermons should be helpful in schooling shoppers on what ideas, products and life-styles not to buy. Sermons should educate shoppers in the spiritual dimensions or lack of them in the products, life style and trendy ideas in the free market. Sermons have a duty to the mind to be critical in a free market of ideas, life-style and issues. What you are looking for and judging by is found in Philippians 4:8.
The new, for example, is not necessarily the good. Ignorant people have a tendency to associate the new with what is better. That is nonsense of course. One will then become the dupe of the trendy, the merely fashionable and the shallow in thinking instead of by examination choosing what is time-honored, proven wise over time, and what products should be held and kept instead of changed. Choosing unexamined newness on an ignorant basis of freshness is gullibility personified but brainless people with no values to judge by tend to associate new with better. The latest television commercially elected President is then better than George Washington because he is new. Unproven because untried! You will not know if the new shoe pinches until you try it on.
In preaching to individual hearts, preaching, I find, is best done to reach individuals by doing it differently than preaching on generalized issues and wide spread ideas that reach primarily to minds. Intellectual criticism on issues reach the minds of the people, but personal criticisms do not win the hearts of people. Personal criticism rather repulses them. Quite rightly so.
If a sermon is to talk to the hearts of people, it should not criticize or threaten. It should attempt to win over, invite, attract, draw out the heart. This does not happen through personal criticism, quarrelling and being out of tune and off key. It should not be threatening or raging.
In a positive personal sermon I want to convince people not to be afraid of God, but to become counter-players with God, fellow players with God, working with and for God spiritually on good things and good values. You cannot, in my view, succeed in this goal, if you constantly attack listeners with personal moral criticisms and a vision of an angry, vengeful God. The moral insults will make listeners self-defensive. They will withdraw into their shells. Then they will more likely not go to help this vengeful God but go hide under the bed with the dog as some children do in storms.
I suggest you must make hearers realize whatever wrong they have done, they are still loved by God and are of great value to Him, which is of course true. Then you may ask them as basically (if not always) good people, to put their best foot forward and aid Him in doing something good, positive and life-affirming for others. They must be told that as good people, if they have seen the need of others, they have seen the need of Jesus. Good people see Jesus in others.
But you cannot say, “Will you bad people help me or God in doing something good? If you do that, they will say, “If we are bad people, why are you asking us to do good? How can we, being bad, do a good thing?” Of course bad people can do good things, but I find the sermon is not the time to take up this abstruse theological question which will absolutely and hopelessly confuse many. In the theological maze the answer brings up, your point may be lost. It is best to follow Jesus in being simply said. No, I suggest you show the people first they have some good in them. This is true. They are children of God having been created in the image of God. Then ask them to help do good as they are good according to whatever good they can do. This, I find, works. Those who feel loved will love back. Grace reaches out instinctively towards a need for grace just as the mother reaches for the baby and the baby reaches out for the parents. A rhythm of the universe is love goes to love.
Believe the Gospel and live in His grace that you may show grace to others.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.