We all know the type, the person that comes to church and maybe even bible study class but conveniently ducks out of worship--maybe all of it or maybe just the sermon--to 'fellowship' and have a cup of coffee instead of attending to the preaching of the Word. Usually folks like that are pretty smug about the whole thing, some even arrogantly suggesting that there's nothing possibly they could learn from yet another sermon. After all, they reason, they've been in church all their life and what's the point?
The point is quite simply this--the purpose of the sermon isn't principally education or knowledge transfer. Though it does increase our knowledge and understanding of God and his Word, it isn't primarily a lecture, a TED talk, or a persuasive speech.
A sermon's purpose is to gracefully work in our lives to conform us bit by bit into the likeness of Christ. It also serves as armor to equip us for our lifelong battle in the mud and muck of life, waged against our own sinful nature and the Devil himself. Worship is a matter of life and death, and the preaching of the Word is no laughing matter.
As Luther commented about the Third Commandment in the Large Catechism:
In the same way those conceited spirits should also be punished who, after they have heard a sermon or two, become sick and tired of it and feel that they know it all and need no more instructors. This is precisely the sin that used to be numbered among the mortal sins and was called acidia—that is, laziness or weariness—a malignant, pernicious plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives many hearts so that he may take us by surprise and stealthily take the Word of God away again.
Let me tell you this. Even though you know the Word perfectly and have already mastered everything, you are daily under the dominion of the devil, and he does not rest day or night in seeking to take you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three and all the other commandments. Therefore you must constantly keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears. For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realize it. On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.  Even if no other benefit or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be motivated by the realization that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight, this commandment is fulfilled, and God is more pleased than by any hypocrisy, no matter how brilliant.
We gladly hear the Word that we might grow closer to Christ our Lord and be transformed to be more and more like him. We listen attentively to know more about God, his ways, and his expectations for us. At the same time, we receive the Word in order to 'soldier on' well-equipped in the war that is this life.
Photo by Diego González on Unsplash