“Relevant” is another word to put in scare quotes when talking about sermons. For just as I think “practical” sermons do little practical good, I think the attempt to make the gospel “relevant” is irrelevant to someone who knows Christ. It’s boring, because it’s about an imaginary Christ designed for those who define themselves in consumerist terms. It doesn’t make much of an impression on those who are learning to understand themselves in light of the gospel’s account of who Christ really is.
The alternative to demanding “relevance” is the willingness to learn. It’s like when you really start to get a new kind of music, maybe classical or jazz, that at first seemed boring or intimidating or irrelevant. When you begin to see the beauty and power in it, you stop asking how it’s relevant to your life. Instead, you acquire a new ability to hear, new powers of perception, as you begin to understand more clearly what’s really there. Learning to perceive this reality enhances your life, makes you a richer person with a deeper understanding of the world. Similarly, the Holy Spirit teaches us to understand the gospel like a kind of divine music, not making Christ relevant to our lives, but reshaping our lives so taht we perceive the beauty of Christ, which captivates our hearts.
The underlying concept here is not relevance but beauty. If you’re a preacher or teacher, you don’t need to do anything to make beautiful things relevant to us. They wouldn’t be beautiful unless they already had the power to move our hearts, stirring us up to love. And from love comes eagerness and diligence in the works of love —all the things that sermons telling us what to do can’t give us.
Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Pracitcal Things You Don’t Have to Do (Brazos, 2010), p. 164.
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