I will never forget the first time I noticed a Lutheran sermon. I had grown up attending a liturgical Episcopal church, and had attended services at many, many denominations over the years going with friends' families when I slept over or playing my flute for some special something or another. I had also attended many, many Lutheran services and had attended a "Lutheran" high school. In fact, I represented the school on "Lutheran High Sunday" at almost every LCMS and ELCA congregation in town. The point is, it wasn't the first Lutheran sermon I heard (probably), it was just the first one I noticed.
I think at this point I was in college and home for some break. I went to church with my friend and his family to their church. Everything was pretty normal for the whole service, more or less the same as the Episcopal services I was familiar with. Lots of standing and sitting (no kneeling, though), lots of singing, all leading up to the sermon.
But, this sermon was different. In this sermon, the pastor talked about what God does for us - I mean, beyond the obvious "Jesus died for you" stuff. He kept saying things like we go to church to receive the gifts God gives us there, not for what we bring to God, and how He saved us and it wasn't through anything we did. I was shocked, offended even!
I had learned the Jesus stuff a few years before, and had been literally living my life based completely on: "Awesome! I believe and accept Jesus died for me and saved me! Okay, what now?? How do I show God that I'm a Christian and want to please Him and grow in my walk every day getting closer to Him?" I had been going to church to learn how to be a better Christian, and this pastor was saying the opposite. He was saying all my work was in vain and that church was there for God doing things for us!
When we were on our way to the car after the service I turned to my friend and said something along the lines of, "I can't believe the pastor said that stuff in the sermon! About the point of church being about what God does for us [note: other than the Jesus thing, God always did that]!! That was so crazy!!"
I was fully expecting him to say, "I know, right? That was insane!" Instead, his face seemed to reflect my shock as he stared at me for a few seconds and then sort of shrugged and said, "Um, I think that pretty much is the point."
It would be another 5 years or so before I would change my beliefs about the purpose of church. And it was a long and ugly battle of my righteousness versus God's gifts. But, I will always remember that shocking morning vividly.
- My first Lutheran sermon