Monday, May 23, 2011

Question of the week: Do you preach both yes and no sermons?

I came across this quote in an article by S. Bowen Matthews: "Denouncing sin has a place in pastoral ministry.  But in order of intention, it is not first place.  Yes, we need to know what to say no to.  But above all we need to know what to say yes to."  He goes on to explain how he preached a series on the Ten Commandments, preaching two sermons per commandment.  One sermon expounded on the meaning of the commandment, the second said, "Let's assume that we obey the commandment.  What possibilities of holiness does it open up for us?"

I think Pastor Matthews is on to something profound.  The "Thou Shalt Nots" of our faith exist in order to open the way for the glorious "Thou Shalts."  I had not read this article before last Sunday, but my sermon fit this pattern well.  I spoke about resisting the temptation of viewing pornography in order to open up the possibilities of genuine relationship.  The emphasis in the sermon was not upon the evils of pornography so much as it was no the gift of true relationship.  Nevertheless, I had to preach the no before I could preach the yes.  Some call this law and gospel preaching, others trouble and grace, I like Matthews description of no and yes sermons. 

My guess is that many, many sermons naturally follow this pattern.  But I also know that sometimes I get stuck in one or the other.  Sometimes I preach a strong "No" but I do not have a well developed "Yes."  This can lead to self-righteousness if it's a sin I don't struggle with, or despair if it is a sin over which I often stumble.  Other times I preach only a yes, which while more comfortable for the preacher, often leaves people unaware of the requirements or cost of following Jesus.   I think I agree with Matthews, the best sermons have a no and a yes.

What do you think?  Do your sermons follow a no then yes pattern?  Can you give an example?  Which do you find easier to preach on, the no or the yes?  Do you think every sermon need a no and a yes or you can preach one with out the other, say a Yes without a No?  Is there a danger in preaching a yes without a no, or a no without a yes?

*S. Bowen Matthews, "Conviction and Compassion: It takes both toughness and tenderness to rescue people from sin," in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today's Communicators, 250-254.

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