I was born again and saved for 38 years. That was 38 years of listening to sermons. Most Sundays I was there in the front slightly to the left of the speaker. Looking up with my head cocked to the right, I sat in with my heart ready to hear what God had to say this week. For you see, God had spoken personally to my pastor while my pastor prayed. He knew what I needed to hear from God and on this day, he was going to tell me. Sadly, it was very seldom that I was a good person.
All sermons start out by thanking us for coming. Pastors spend a lot of time telling the congregation that they are deeply loved and cared for. There is mention over and over again that we are needed for the work and ministry and our presence is valuable and important. I would sit there and soak up the praise for I was one of the very best attenders. If there were star sticker charts, my line would have more than anyone else’s in it. I loved hearing what God wanted to tell me. I loved being appreciated for just showing up. I would pull out my ENORMOUS BIBLE and a pad of paper and open my listening ears.
Every Sunday it would start with the pastor reading a passage from the Bible. I would excel at trying to guess what points he would make and which accepted doctrine he would teach. What the pastor in question chose to do next would determine what I thought of the sermon, because I knew what I would preach out of that passage--if I as a woman were allowed to preach. After reading the passage and praying that God would open our hearts, the man would start in on the passage in earnest.
There would usually be an emotional attention getting hook. Depending on which doctrine, the pastor would dig into a funny make them laugh anecdote or a tear jerking one. Usually it would be a relatable story, which every listener can put themselves into the story and think about “what they would do in the same situation.” After the emotionally pull, the heavy points come down about how we are failing at being good people or how we can be better Christians, but the bottom line is, “You, the listener, are completely insufficient and I am going to tell you AGAIN how you need to get more, do more, be more.” During these parts of the sermon there are times I would think about the doctrines, how they were being used, how they were convicting me to change, if these doctrines were a good match for the passage chosen, and if there were better ones to draw out.
If I felt convicted, I would examine the reasons why. According to scripture, was I failing? Every time I found ways to find that I was deficient. I would over and over and over again feel like no matter which doctrine was applied, the Spirit was speaking to me. I was indeed a sinner in need of progressive sanctification. Jesus had to send more of the spirit to purge the evil from me and if I was really struggling with a “set in” sin, I would go forward for prayer or talk it over with a friend. Always, the answer was found in more connection with the church and in more connection with Jesus and clearer and better teaching from the Bible. The ever elusive true interpretation needed to be heard and applied. The only way I could hear and apply would be to keep attendance up. The overall message was, “Don’t worry if you don’t have low esteem you will have by the time we are done with you for the purpose of giving you a made up cure.”
It is very clear to me that the point of the Sunday morning sermon was to make me feel in one point special for attending, and in another point completely broken and NEEDING to attend. Both hooks are equally applied into the deepest insecurities of the human psyche. I need to be seen as special and I am fundamentally flawed and in need of a cure. I found my way free by seeing that I am extremely unique and I am not in any way, shape, or form broken. As soon as I embraced these truths about myself wholeheartedly, I truly was redeemed from this poisonous way of thinking.