Now, about sermons. What makes a sermon Lutheran? One might rightly presume a careful division of the Law and the Gospel, with the Gospel predominating. Though you will likely not find this coming from every Lutheran pulpit, I think that this sort of homiletic is emblematic of Lutheran preaching. Where this distinction is not made with intention I observe that Lutheran preachers often fall into the trap of proclaiming only the Gospel or admonishing with only the Law. In the case of the former, the people are at risk of antinomian indulgence. In the latter case the risk is self-righteousness or overbearing guilt, fear, and despair. That being said, one of the reasons that I am a convicted Lutheran is because I have never heard the Gospel proclaimed as sweetly in any other denomination as in even the most moderate of Lutheran churches.
Beyond the Law / Gospel distinction, however, there is little that could be said to be unique to or emblematic of Lutheran sermons. This is due to the myriad problems that I listed above. The greater part of North American Lutheran history would suggest that the sermon was the highpoint of the Divine Service. But no small minority of Lutheran pastors today would say that the Holy Eucharist is the clear pinnacle of the Divine Service with the Introit, Lessons, and even the sermon serving as preparation for the banquet in which Christ comes to us physically and spiritually and dwells with and in us, His flesh united with ours, His blood coursing through our veins. Viewed as preparation for this foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end, preaching will utilize highly sacramental and incarnational imagery and didactic. The goal is that Christ’s people come to His banquet in humble but confident faith, in selfless, sacrificial love for both God and neighbor. For me, and for many of my colleagues, this is emblematic of the typical Lutheran sermon.
The participants in the Looking East discussion also have stated that Orthodox sermons tend to focus on love much more than Lutheran sermons. Perhaps that is true, but again, I know that I preach about the love of God in Christ Jesus and the implications of that love for Christians in the world but not of the world in nearly every sermon I’ve ever preached. Certainly I’ve heard Lutheran sermons that were essentially Bible studies read from a pulpit, but I’ve heard many more that proclaimed the selfless, sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus that enables us to love others as He has so abundantly loved us. Come on, love is what the Christian faith is all about! God IS love. Greater love is NOT POSSIBLE than one lay down His life for His friends. LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVE YOU. Divine love is known in action; divine love is a creative activity. It is useless to pontificate about love, to philosophize about love, to quote the fathers on love -- love must be experienced and love must be given (shared). Divine love is known in the Eucharistic Feast (which the sermon helps to prepare you to receive).
I often think that the “church” on earth is going through a humbling trial in this present age. Faithful Christians are being forced to return to the Word alone as they watch their institutional structures plagued by division, scandal, financial crisis, ceaselessly dividing. Even as my own institutional house is in disorder, the Truth remains unchanged. The invisible Church cannot be divided or broken, nor defeated. Where should we go? Christ Jesus has the Word of eternal life. There’s no need to look East, West, North, South or any other way the wind might blow.