As the Season of Lent rushes toward inevitability, scripture calls us to play the old game of Truth or Consequences—no, not the game show from the 1960s, but the old-time religion game of suffering and salvation.
Perhaps it was John Wesley who observed that a preacher has only a few things to say, only a few sermons to preach, and that the task of preaching is a matter of addressing in newly creative and energetic ways the few essential themes. After four decades of preaching, I’m ready to agree.
Paul’s daunting promise to the Romans haunts me: “Suffering produces endurance,” he assures the Romans and us, “and endurance produces character and character produces hope.” Recently I stood in the pulpit of my church and looked over the top of a white, 32-inch-long casket at a young couple from my congregation. Their six-month-old son, who had been happy and healthy just days before, had died in his sleep. The unfathomable suffering of the family was shadowed by a church filled with mourners for whom the scene enacted their most dreaded fears.
I didn’t know Lewis Smedes very well, but I miss him. The Fuller Seminary professor and author who died late last year was the kind of generous and open evangelical who gives me hope for the unity of the church at a time when that hope is hard to come by. We met just once, under peculiar circumstances.
Viking Penguin Lives, a series of biographies, lists Martin Marty on Martin Luther among its forthcoming titles (2003). Writing this book will keep me busy during 2002; doing the reading for it has delighted me through much of 2001.