Friday, June 5, 2009

Preaching Through the Crises of Love

image I recently blogged about the introduction that Christoph Schwöbel has written to Colin Gunton’s (pictured, left) collection of sermons, “Theology Through Preaching: Sermons for Brentwood.”

The Introduction is entitled “The Preacher’s Art: Preaching Theologically.” What got my attention was his section on preaching pastorally. Schwöbel says that Pastoral Preaching deals with three major crises in the lives of all humans:

  • The Crises of Faith
  • The Crises of Love
  • The Crises of Hope

I have already dealt with what he says about “The Crises of Faith”

The second crises that our people to whom we preach face is the crises of love. Schwöbel states that these crises come in two forms:

  • The failure of love in our relationships to other people can inflict wounds on our ability to love ourselves.
  • Alternately, we discover that our love is so fiercely focused on ourselves that we are unable to relate to others. (p. 11)

Schwöbel states what most of us would say about the love of God:

The communication of the gospel in preaching confronts us with a God who does not love us with a love that is proportioned to the measure of our attractiveness as objects of divine love. (p. 11)

But he goes beyond that to say that God “loves us where we are, but He loves us too much to leave us where we are.” (in the words of that old cliché).  In Schwöbel’s words, his creative power works to makes us beautiful: “God’s love is a transforming love, transforming our unattractiveness into loveliness.” (p. 11)  I don’t know that I am wild about Schwöbel’s comment that God's transforming power “makes us worthy of His love,” but I appreciate his point none the less.

Preaching that is truly pastoral communicates

this creative character of God’s love as it is contained in the gospel. It does not only provide information about the character of God’s love, it follows the way of God’s love to those whose ability to love is restricted, by communicating God’s love to them.  (p. 11)

Our challenge to them is:

…to love others as they are loved by God, as they appear in the eyes of God’s love and not in the often impaired vision of our human loves. The summary of the commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbour contains a fundamental asymmetry. Our love of God is the recognition of God’s creative love towards us, because he loved us first, while our love of our neighbour is the invitation to love them as they are loved by God just as we are loved by God. The crisis of our love is broken up by the promise that our ability to love does not depend on our capacities of loving, but on God’s infinite creative capacities for creating our love as a response-to being loved. (p. 12)

Modern preaching has been fairly good at preaching that we are loved by God in spite of our unloveliness.  I don’t know that we have been as good at preaching that not only are we to love others as God sees and loves them, but that our ability to love like that does not depend on our capacity to love, but in God’s creative power for creating that type of love in us. 

Next time we will look at the Crises of Hope.

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