We preachers are all prone to use family events and incidents to illustrate our sermons. The dumb spouse is second only to the idiot adolescent child in making his or her meandering way through the fertile fields of homiletics. It is easy to eisegetically snuggle a good spouse into a Corinthian passage on how women ought to behave, but it is not fair! Even if you ask your spouse for permission, you sin with the practice. The fact that you have to ask permission probably says you’re pretty sure this kind of sermon inclusion is off track. Even the asking of it sounds as if you’re saying, “Is it OK, Darling, if I exhibit your idiocy in my sermon this week? It would mean a lot to Jesus.”
I want off this thumb-worn issue in favor of a more insidious kind of abuse. I have a lay friend who loves to teach. He is very big on the Civil War and often takes part in Civil War battle reenactments. He’s a fair Bible teacher, but he is an indefatigable historian because this is his passion. So no matter what he is teaching, it all ends up at Manassas. He amazes me that with a bit of gyration can snuggle Gettysburg into Philemon. When it is all over, I can’t remember exactly how he did it, but I know he did.
Most of us who preach pursue some kind of hobby or field of learning and without realizing it can make our pursuit part of our sermon. I like prophecy in general, but I am suspicious of it when it becomes too specific. I have known prophecy-loving preachers who feel compelled to help me understand Gog and Magog, even when they are preaching the Book of Ruth. They just can’t help it. Ruth and Boaz are fairly easy to write into prophecy; after all, the pair lived in Bethlehem, directly south of Moscow from whence shall come the hordes of invaders in the last days.
For some preachers, their sermons keep close company with professional football. I had a pastor who just before the Rams’ game in Los Angeles, quoted in his sermon a word of support for his favorite team (which wasn’t the Rams) by citing
In Alabama, home now to two championship teams—Bama and Auburn—these two rivals have developed fierce antagonisms, and their relative merits have wound up in sermons of all sorts. The Auburn team serves the sermon with a sort of mixed metaphor as it is alternately called the Tigers or the War Eagles, but there are easy ways to work Eagles into a sermon: They that serve the Lord shall mount up with wings as War Eagles, sort of (
I am a fan of Shakespeare and have been guilty of working him into some sermon niches where one of his quotes barely fits. One Sunday when I had included an unusually long quote from the Bard, one of my friends snidely said at the back door after the sermon, “Pastor, that literary quote was something else. I almost went forward and accepted Shakespeare as my Savior.” I remember his comment to this day, and I always try to make sure I don’t become too lopsided with my own attachments.
The worst sort of sermon abuse I run into is the preacher who confesses too much too often so he or she employs the congregation as his or her own therapist. As with all other abuses, it at least begins in a subtle way before it gets heavy. The custom annoys me and generally becomes oppressive to the people who must listen to it. I actually think most of the time it goes too far. I had a preacher whose pop-psych sermons often included illustrations from his own family, particularly his wife. One Sunday, he went too far and couldn’t get it back. He actually lost the church, I think primarily from tripping too close to the edges of psychological propriety.
Police your hang-ups and interests. Take stock of your own emotional needs. Make the Scripture so much the heart of you preachment that there isn’t room for any abuse. It’s easy to preach Jezebel’s prophets as liberals or the Sadducees as Democrats. When you do this, you make Jesus and His disciples resemble Republicans without really using the term. Don’t try to stand up for New Englanders by saying, “Jesus loves everybody in Massachusetts.” In this kind of abuse, you are really saying, “I don’t know how He does it.”
Let your speech be seasoned with grace. Clean up your verbal act. Preach the good news without betraying your prejudices. God wants a good firm proclamation that brings the world nearer to Jesus. Hang up your hang-ups; and should you ever say anything unkind about any person or group, remember apology ends with the same five letters as Christology. “Forgive me” covers the world’s idiocy with new humanity, and humanity is a good thing to stir into your divinity constantly.