There are usually a few snickers in the room when I tell people that I played varsity football in high school. The laughter becomes much more pronounced when I say that I was a starting offensive lineman on a Class B team with a winning record (2-3 years removed from being two-time state champions). It was in that locker room that I believe I first heard some really “tough talks”.
This past Sunday I entered into a sermon series – Heart Issues are Hard Issues – offered by the Michigan District of the LCMS. The focus is upon the racial tensions in our land, and how we as the Body of Christ are called to respond. It’s all about tough talks.
It is not easy for me – nor my usual practice – to preach a sermon someone else wrote, so I labored extensively over the text provided. After a good deal of editing, I finally had a product I felt I could read to the congregation (again, stretching myself because reading is not my style, either). I anticipated it would be a tough talk from many angles.
And it was, from even more angles than I anticipated! As soon as I finished preaching it, I resolved not to read any more sermons for a long time. And, as the week progressed, I discovered that I had not sufficiently explained some of the phrases and terms used in the sermon. While one person texted, “Thank you for speaking so eloquently about the hard conversations we need to have with each other,” others shut down at certain points and were not able to hear the meat of the sermon. I even heard of a few people who took the time to listen to the sermon 2-3 times in order to understand the message. If someone has to do that, I am not doing my job.
Now I, for one, never expected one tough talk to resolve all (any?) of the world’s problems. I believe that we all should expect that the first tough talk will lead into the second, and then another, and another, and …in the same way that I need to hear the gospel over and over and over again. It is through engagement and dialogue that God accomplishes his will on earth. And, since so many choose to disengage, it is our role as God’s people to be the proactive engagers in the conversations (difficult and otherwise) – no matter if what is thrown at us are complements or stones.
St. Paul is a great example of being persistent no matter how tough the talks got. While unjustly imprisoned for preaching Christ he wrote, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what it excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Philippians 1.9-13) He understood that it is through engagement and dialogue that God’s will is accomplished. He also recognized that, though he would make many mistakes along the way, it was imperative for him to continue the tough talks (emphasis upon the plural), for he also writes, “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1.15-16)
And so, the tough talks continue. Not just in the sermon series, but also in small and one-on-one gatherings around the cross of Jesus. Sometimes rejoicing. Sometimes repenting. Always seeking the growth that God works through engagement and dialogue, and through the tough talks as described by Paul – “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4.15-16)
Now, I cannot take you back to that locker room where I first heard some really tough talks, but I can offer you the link to this past Sunday’s sermon (https://www.stl-eastpointe.org/sermons/all-that-matters/). I have no idea how you will react. But I pray you will learn two things that I have gained this week – how really tough and important these talks are … and how I need to keep listening, learning and getting better at engaging in all godly forms of tough talks.