In typical African-American style, the preacher closed the sermon with a celebration. Here the preacher resolved the pain by pointing to being “hooked up.”
Too Quick a Jump to the Gravy
This sermon felt like it jumped to the gravy too quickly. This was a jump that didn’t take into account the necessity of experiencing the pain. The emotional release will be forced or superficial if the fullness of the pain is not experienced.
One of the things that a sermon can do is help to model correct thinking. Correct thinking would not limit the need to experience pain. Sometimes our people think and/or act as if it is a sign of lack of faith to grieve or acknowledge hurt. Whether one has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or has experienced the loss of a loved one, grief and pain are necessary and needed. Yes, it is even inevitable. Some of us may even question God at these times of intense sorrow. All of this is expected and needed. We cannot in our preaching make people believe that they will not experience pain in this life.
Joy Tied to Good Outcome
Another problem in this sermon is that the experience of joy was tied to a good outcome in this world. The one who lost a child now has another one. Setting aside the problematic and incorrect thought that one child could replace another, the joy in this scenario is shown to come from a good outcome down here. The person should be happy because they got a better job down here. They should be happy because they got hooked up down here.
We live in an era where the Christian life is about getting hooked up. But the reality is that we don’t always get hooked up down here. Ask Paul, who never had the thorn in his flesh taken away, even though he greatly desired it to be removed (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Ask Zechariah, who died between the porch and the altar (Matt. 23:35). Ask John the Baptist, whose head was on the plate in a banquet (Matt. 14:8-11).
The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes Grandma will die. Sometimes we will lose our job. Sometimes bad things will happen.
We cannot in our preaching give the impression that good will always win in the end “down here.” Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous languish. Sometimes the fornicating pastor gets the big church and the faithful one gets fired from his modest one. Yes, it is true; you may not get that house. It is not guaranteed to you.
Importance of Incarnation
The realities of this thought makes the incarnation even more important. Jesus didn’t sidestep the pains of this life to live in luxury. Jesus came and lived among us all. He didn’t sidestep the experience of the poor. He died and even felt betrayed by God, which wrenched from His lips the cry, “My God, My God, why ... ?” (Matt. 27:46).
The good news is not that we do not have to have pain. The good news is that Jesus is there with us in the pain. The good news is that Jesus helps us to endure the pain. And the good news, yes, is that Jesus overcame the worst that life can give and now offers that to us.
We will have pain in this world, but we have someone to walk with us, talk with us and tell us that we are His own. We will have pain in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. And yes, it is still true: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds an M.Div with an emphasis in homiletics and an M.S. in computer science. Visit Sherman at SoulPreaching.com.