“Learn to do well.”

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

This is how we are to learn to live. We are to have the right pattern. That pattern is Jesus. We are to have power, and that power comes from Jesus. And then we are to take the light and leading that Jesus gives, and we are to act up to the last limit of it, we are to practice it to the last chapter, and then we will learn to do well, and we will be doing well.

George W. Truett, “An Essential of Victory,” from On Eagle Wings: Fourteen Messages on Old Testament Themes

Truett’s text for this sermon was a select portion of Isaiah 1:17, which in the King James Version is rendered, “Learn to do well.” Other translations say learn to do good, or right.

Truett observes that we must not only learn to avoid evil, but to enact the good. He says, “There are two great aspects to the religious life. The one is negative and the other is positive.” We can mistakenly emphasize one over the other, obsessing over the avoidance of evil and refraining from actively doing good, or zealously seek to do what is right, while neglecting the renunciation of actions that run contrary to God’s will. In choosing the way of Jesus, we remain on his path. Other avenues are forsaken. Learning to do well involves gaining wisdom to distinguish good from evil, and to consistently desire and choose that which is of God, rather that that which is not.

Like many good preachers, Truett helps us remember how we are to learn to do well by using alliteration. Learning to do well involves a pattern, power, and practice. We look to Jesus as our model, but he is also our teacher and our helper, and we, being his students, are given opportunities to put what we learn into action under his loving and watchful eye.

Jesus made a claim in the gospels, spoken in various ways, that after he died and was raised from the dead, he would remain present with his followers. He will be with us always. When he departs, the Spirit would come. Jesus is the pattern. He supplies the power. We take up the practice. Let’s add one more word that starts with “p.” In learning to do well, his presence remains with us. For that, we can be thankful.

Preach Better Sermons

stefan-kunze-16862-unsplash

Christianity Today’s Christian History email newsletter dropped a nice gem in my inbox this morning. On this date in history:

May 3, 1675: A Massachusetts law goes into effect requiring church doors to be locked during services. Officials enacted the law because too many people were leaving before sermons were over.

Here’s an idea: Instead of passing a law, preach better sermons.

Putting Our Remarkable Minds to Use

It’s the job of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom. That everyone is a critic means, or should mean, that we are each of us capable of thinking against our prejudices, of balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, of sharpening our dulled and glutted senses and battling the intellectual inertia that surrounds us. We need to put our remarkable minds to use and pay our own experience the honor of taking it seriously.

– A. O. Wilson, Better Living Through Criticism, 12

This brings to recollection a recent conversation with a friend who said that listening to a sermon is one particular time during his week in which he brings the full measure of his mental focus to bear upon an occasion, an event, noticing every word, the tone, nuances, and inflection. He listens, deeply and carefully. The stakes are high. That is why, for him, it is so important that the sermon contain a thread he can follow, one he can learn from. In doing so, not only is he seeking to take the sermon and the person delivering the sermon seriously, he is also putting his mind to use and paying his own experience the honor of taking it seriously.

He’s engaged in criticism. Criticism notes what is lacking, but it also elevates what is worthy of attention, lest we miss it. It is possible to engage in the practice of criticism while being charitable, civil, and even kind. In other words, everyone can be a critic, and in some sense should be. But criticism must be accompanied by other virtues if it is to be Christian.

The sermon is art. So is the essay, the blog post, the photograph, maybe, also, the caption. The job of the sermon, as well as these other art forms, is not only to fill the mind or inform the soul, but to offer and invite us toward freedom–to think, to change, to grow. To be serious.

Once that freedom is received, what we do with that freedom is up to us. The possibilities begin when we put our remarkable minds to use, when we get serious.

I can think of no other subject about which we should be so serious, as well as so joyful, as that of contemplating God and the things of God.