A two-part series, the next being the Hearer of Sermons.
A preaching life is a wonderful life. It is a life of prayer, thought, study, wrestling, (outlining) and then speaking to a congregation of people who are seeking to hear God’s Word. It is a life of learning about people and getting to know people. It is a life of listening and talking, reflection and observation. And it is a Gospel life.
At least that is what we hope it is. We pray that we are hearing and learning and then finding ways to preach the Gospel one more time. We hope that our message affects the psychological nature of our hearers (us too), but that it also goes deeper into the whole person. We pray that our words, when they are Gospel words, speak to the minds of people, but also sink down into the heart. We pray that our preaching is used to effect the cure of souls. All while praying that grace is at work and not guilt, that love is inspired and not shame, that sin is pointed out, but apart from condemnation. We pray that Christ is lifted up and that all men are drawn to him. And in all of this, it is the Holy Spirit working.
As Phillips Brooks defined preaching, it is “truth through personality.” We preachers are that personality. And in preaching, we find that God works. He works despite our obvious shortcomings, repetitive phrases, overemphasis, “adventures in missing the point” and other foibles and follies of preachers. He works, in fact, often through these quirks, as he did with the Disciples. He just loves his people that much.
Preaching is odd today, in that we don’t often find a room full of people sitting quietly for 20 or more minutes, just listening to one person. And that one person is not usually very dazzling, if we are honest. And yet, there we preachers are, talking. One human being talking to other human beings. But we are to trust that preaching is a God-ordained institution, irreplacable, and imporant. Paul told Timothy to “preach as of the oracles of God.” Kind of scary if you think about it. But, then again, not really. We are simply to preach believing that God can use these earthen vessels to communicate the Gospel to his people. That’s the oracles of God.
As I reflect on my preaching life, I realize that often we are called upon to bring together the mystery of seeming opposites, which together form a mystery. We are to show how Three are One, how Law points to Grace, how God became man, how justice is mercy, and how resting in Christ means lots of action. We have to stand up and say that God loves sinners while pointing out how dangerous and widespread sin and its affects are. We have to tell the world that God is offering pardon, while warning of a future judgement. We have to be sober but not lose our sense of how comic mankind can be. We have to bring heaven and earth together into one and make sure we always vision Christ as the all encompassing reality of all things. All this in twenty minutes a week (or more), and in categories and word pictures to which people can connect.
But its so very worth it. It is such a beautiful thing to know that when Christ is preached, even by such a one as me, that he is drawing people to himself. It is a graceful gift to be one who stands up before the congregation and says that the God who made us remakes us. It is a surprise of Providence to find oneself in the pulpit, sometimes it even feels like a joke God is playing on the parish. Me? The bald guy who sweats, talks too fast, and thinks English grammar is interesting as an illustration? “Yes”, he says, “its you. Stand up and preach my Gospel one more time.” And so it goes, week by week, year by year, and by the grace of God, he will make me an old retired priest someday, a man who has finally learned that it was all him, and all about him. And I pray that preaching will be a spiritual discipline, practiced and learned over a lifetime, which will shape this creature more into the likeness of Christ.