Did you get something out of the sermon?

People often use the phrase “get something out of” when they talk about church. “It was a bad service, but I got something out of the sermon.” “Johnny, I know you don’t like church, but try to get something out of the pastor’s message.” And other variations. I don’t like it anymore.

We whine about the challenge of listening to a boring sermon. But then we gloat about how we were still able to get something out of the message. Sermon sucked, but my hard work came through. It’s a convenient way to measure our spiritual commitment over others. “I was so bored during the sermon that I polished my nails, took a lengthy nap, and learned the ABCs backwards. But I still got something out of it. What, you didn’t?”

Further, this phrase implies that one already has the main ‘something’, and everything else is just supplemental. But when you get the main ‘something’ (namely, that you have nothing and all is a gift from God), it sort of grips you right there and doesn’t let you go. You don’t move past that grace into more spiritually sophisticated endeavors. Grace alone is enough to occupy a lifetime of reflection.

I’m not discouraging growth in wisdom or whatever, but I am discouraging the attitude of a miner sitting in the pews. You aren’t digging for gold in the pastor’s sermon, you are receiving bread. You are a beggar trying to survive another day in a very difficult world that screams in your ear “The Gospel is not true. You can’t be sure of God’s goodness. You need to work harder and harder.” When you come to church, check your spiritual riches at the door and sit down next to the other dusty beggars holding their hands out for sustenance.

In conclusion, I am not sure the phrase itself has much meaning. It is – at best – just a way to say a person likes the pastor’s personality, and – at worst – it is an admission of spiritual superiority. Either way it sends a message that church is about us and the intellectual energy we bring to the table. But the table is already occupied. There sits Christ’s body and blood given for us. Our hard work or God’s unconditional love. Only the latter offers refreshment to our soul, but the former is just so damn delicious.

I don’t know what kind of riches people expect to “get out of” a pastor’s sermon. But if you do strike rich in a pastor’s sermon, be careful it’s not in the shape of a golden calf.

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