"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." - James 4: 7
"I've heard a lot of sermons in the past ten years that make me want to get up and walk out," wrote Garrison Keillor.
"They're secular, psychological, self-help sermons. Friendly, but of no use. They didn't make you straighten up. They didn't give you anything hard."
At least sometimes we do need to hear a hard word, a word that names our failures and self-deceptions, a word that causes us to straighten up and do better. Some speak of this experience as being "convicted," which seems to be a way of saying, "You were talking about me, preacher. You got my number."
Of course, sometimes preachers just catch a case of the common scold. Scolding people isn't the same thing, at all, as proclaiming the hard word of God. No good.
The difference is that the preacher too stands under God's word, called to account by this word of judgment and grace along with everyone else.
Saying "God loves you," over and over and over, though it may be true, can dull our spiritual edge. Every now and again, we also need to hear, "God loves you so much that God expects something better of you." That too can be good news.
Grant, O God, that I may have courage to speak your hard word, and the grace to receive it. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.