For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been reviewing the Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel, as well as the three uses of the Law. This has been leading up to one of my favorite subjects, namely that of Lutheran homiletics. Or, if you’re not impressed by the fancy eight-dollar technical term, that means Lutheran preaching. So what makes a sermon Lutheran?
First and foremost, Lutheran sermons are, as a general rule, Christocentric. If Christ isn’t at the heart of a sermon, we consider it somewhat problematic. More specifically, we insist on including the Gospel message in every sermon. You will rarely find a Lutheran sermon that doesn’t point the listener in some way, shape, or form toward Christ and what He’s done.
Second, a Lutheran sermon is, usually, Biblical. That means that it will be based on a specific Biblical text and will usually delve deeper and deeper into said text to tease out as much meaning as possibly can. There’s also a tendency, in preparing the sermon, for the pastor to utilize the original Greek and Hebrew texts to tease out as much insight as possible.
Third, a Lutheran sermon does its best to balance Law and Gospel. We utilize the second use of the Law to confront people with the way we fall short of God’s intentions for our lives. And we use the Gospel to speak to the sin that we find after doing so. There’s a definite pattern to Lutheran preaching: this is how human beings tend to mess things up, followed by a discussion of how God works to fix that sin in Christ.
Now here’s where there’s a bit of controversy, at least in my little corner of Lutheran-land. The question arises as to whether or not a preacher can utilize the Third Use of the Law (which is using God’s Law as a guide for Christian living) in a sermon. This may seem like an odd question to ask, but there’s a good reason why Lutherans can sometimes be hesitant to discuss how Christians ought to live in a sermon. While we may intend to discuss how a Christian life should look like, this can quickly turn into another confrontation about the way we don’t live up to God’s expectations. Instead of building people up with the Gospel (which is always the goal of any Lutheran sermon), we can wind up inadvertently making someone feeling guilt over what they’re not doing.
To put it bluntly, you usually won’t find yourself hearing too many “how to make a Christian grilled cheese sandwich” sermons (as one of my colleagues put it once). We won’t talk about politics or current events, unless it somehow intersects with a Biblical principle that arises from Scripture (and ultimately, that point is subordinate to the Gospel message).
The tl;dr version of all this? Lutheran sermons arise from the Scripture. We do our best to apply what we find in there to our daily lives, using it as a way to reveal our sin and our need for a Savior. A Lutheran sermon tries to balance Law and Gospel, but if one has to be dominant, we err on the side of the Gospel. It’s ultimately a chance for God to speak to us through His Word using the voice of the pastor.
And really, the sermon is ultimately an outgrowth of a Lutheran worship service. And next week, we’ll talk about what makes a worship experience Lutheran.