The Joy is Gone!
Why is it that church so often is associated with asceticism? Better yet, where has the life and joy gone from means of grace?
A few weeks ago now Westminster Theological Seminary hosted its annual preaching conference with the subject “Cure for the Boring Sermon” and Kevin DeYoung spoke forcefully to us young preachers how we should be clear, specific and authentic with a wonderful crescendo centering on authority. I was blessed to hear Kevin’s encouragement and thought that it dove tailed nicely with what I have been preaching on in the Gospel of Mark. In the second chapter of Mark the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders begins. Each one of the confrontations centers around the authority of Jesus. It seems that the religious leaders are not very happy with this “new teaching with authority” () and through down the challenge to Jesus: “Why does he eat…, why don’t his disciples fast…, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath”? In short they are challenging Jesus and his disciples on religion. For the religious leaders of Jesus day, religion was sectarian, ascetic and legalistic. Jesus not only had authority, he had joy, he had life.
We have not changed much in the last 2,000 years. Our religion is still fraught with sectarian pride, ascetic admiration and legalistic underpinnings. It would be easy to blame the culture or the sinfulness of man, but what about the means of grace themselves? I mean, is the presentation and confidence that we have in the means of grace a model of joy and life – or do we even use Word and Sacrament to beat down the people of God? I have to admit that harsh treatment and pounding people through the means of grace is tempting for me. One because it just plain easy to focus on sin. But secondly it is amazing how many Christians actually like conviction of sin. We seem to be in love with pain and death. It is high time we had Jesus dismantle our dower holiness!
27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (ESV)