I’ve been in seminary long enough to have picked up a few things here and there. Things like – people don’t know what to do with you when you say you are a seminarian. You’re in this kind of limbo between layperson and clergy person. I’ve gotten used to that. That’s kind of the point too. Seminary is a kind of transition. Not that we become different when we become clergy people, but our role is different.
Another thing I’ve learned is how to listen to sermons. I’ve heard plenty of sermons and homilies in my life, having been an active church goer all my life. However, it wasn’t until seminary that I really learned how to listen to a sermon. Attending a Lutheran seminary, we are taught a very Lutheran (obviously) way of doing sermons – preaching Law and Gospel. The law convicts us of our sin and helpless nature to do anything about it. And Gospel is essentially God’s grace and action. The Gospel is the good news. Of course, there can be good news in law too – but that’s for another posting.
One thing I’ve been able to “hear” more clearly is how easy it is to preach Law. In fact, I’d say every clergy member I know of will admit that they have preached Law and left out the Gospel from time to time. It’s easy to do. And if one uses the lectionary readings, sometimes it’s difficult to find the Gospel in the readings. I get that.
Of course preaching Law and Gospel is just one of the many ways in which sermons are prepared and preached. There is no universal standard, so that makes judging a sermon rather difficult. And really, judging a sermon? Is that the point? Not really. I happen to believe that the Gospel can come through any sermon, even if it sounds an awful lot like Law. It’s the Holy Spirit that works through it. It may not speak to us, but it might speak to someone else who hears it.
And that’s the beauty of the preached word. It’s God’s action in us. The whole thing is – from the preaching to the listening. God will speak to us in sometimes unfathomable ways and sometimes in hidden ways. Yet, God speaks to us. Sometimes we hear God in the subtle and other times we need a 2×4 whacking us up side the head. (Yeah, I’ve been a part of that group plenty of times). But really, it comes down to this, even when Law is preached, the Gospel is there.