Why do pastors always seem to sidestep the hard sayings in their sermon texts?
Today I sat in a service where the pastor focused at length on the “talents” passages, one of which is Matthew 25:14-30, the other Luke 19:11-27. His purpose was pointing out that God has given each of us treasures and that he wants us to be good stewards of those treasures. He asked us to list the treasures we have been given and identify which ones we were making good use of. He pointed out that the servants who made good use of the treasures they had been given received their master’s praise. He pointed out that the servant who did not make good use of the treasure lost what he had been given.
All that’s very good.
But the pastor didn’t even mention the other consequence suffered by the servant who didn’t multiply the treasure he had been given. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying the master ordered the “useless servant” to be thrown “into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Not a word from the pulpit about that. No assistance in understanding what it meant to Jesus’ audience. No insight into what application it might have for those of us in the congregation who have our treasures buried in the back yard.
Did Jesus tack on that last part as an afterthought? Did those words just fall meaningless on the ears of those who listened? Does the fact Jesus included those words in his teaching not indicate we ought to include them in ours?
I have been a believer for more than 50 years. I read the Bible for myself and can take you to dozens of passages I have never heard a preacher or teacher so much as mention. It seems more than a coincidence that those passages, almost without exception, speak to the cost of discipleship, the expectations our Master has of his servants — and the consequences of servants not obeying their Lord.
I find it perfectly ironic that Luke’s version mentions that the reason the master went on the long trip was to be crowned king, but those who were to be his subjects “hated him” and sent a delegation after him to tell the emperor, “We do not want him to be our king.” The master/king’s verdict on those who rejected his lordship? Well, you can read it for yourself in verse 27.
Pastors and teachers, Jesus chose his words carefully. His words didn’t just glibly spill from his mouth. If he said it, he said it for a reason, because the people needed to hear it. Your people don’t just need to hear the feel-good parts of the Gospel. They don’t need to hear just the challenging parts. They also need to hear the hard sayings that make us nervous and set us to inquiring of the Lord whether we face the same danger his hearers faced in that day. And they not only need to hear it, you need to say it.
I am always disappointed when a preacher or teacher sidesteps the hard sayings in their text. But, in the end, it’s not my disappointment that matters.