Joel Osteen is a popular figure in my congregation. It makes sense. In a blue collar town, where our recession and other economic pains are magnified, Osteen provides a wonderful pick yourself up speech. Beyond my town, I have even heard reference to him from DJ’s on Charlotte radio stations about how they listen to his sermons in the car. Osteen came to a stadium near us a couple weeks ago and one of my parishioners suggested, after the fact, that she wished we could have gone. Osteen seems to be everywhere I turn.
On June 1st, the lectionary text is Matthew 7:21-29, the story of the wise man who built his house on the rocks and the foolish man who built his on sand. In Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource he mentions Osteen as a preacher who is building his house on the sand. I love that image and I believe that it is true, but how do I pastoral approach it in my sermon without having people turn a deaf ear?
Although this sermon is month away this sermon illustration has took over my brain. That is because I have referenced him before. In a sermon on “You Cannot Serve Two Masters” I mentioned that prosperity preachers, namely Joel Osteen, are doing this. They are removing Christ and replacing the almighty dollar as what they worship. You can see some reflections here from that sermon. It came with some backlash but I stand firmly in my belief that Osteen is not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
After this outbreak of conversations with people I took a break from looking into the Prosperity Gospel message until I started to plan this sermon. Then like a freight train it has rolled through my mind and left a distinct impression. I am left with a couple of options.
Option 1: Knowing the huge fan base for Joel Osteen in my congregation, I could simply not mention this in my sermon and go on having discussion with people when it comes up in conversation.
Option 2: I can use Osteen as an example of building our house on sand and be ready to have conversations about his theology and teachings. I could be prepared to really make some parishioners mad, not in the way I present it (hopefully) but in the reality I present.
One thing is for sure, I am diving into the teachings of Osteen in order to talk with authority. I have now TiVoed some of his sermons and have been slowly watching them. I have asked a parishioner to let me borrow one of his books so I can read it. If I do chose to use this point in my sermon, I want it to be from a person who understands Osteen better than I use to. I want to learn his basic teachings and his techniques for teaching them. Are his critiques right, is he simply giving “cotton candy gospel” built on proof texting? We shall see I guess.
From the sermons I have watched thus far (only two) I do know that I am not a fan already. There is too much ‘I’ and ‘me’ in his preaching. It is up to the person to do the work of God. If we want life to be better we can work through our problems knowing that God has victory and success planned for our lives. As I dive into his book, I’ll see if that changes…
Pray for me!!!