Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Preaching

Let’s be honest. Pastors think that the most important part of the service is their sermon. We tell ourselves it’s not, but we are too narcissistic to really believe it. We are Protestants and it’s in our blood. Have you ever wondered why retired preachers continue preaching way longer than they should? The power and authority in the pulpit is too alluring. 

After a year of preaching I have found a mix of a healthy dose of the fear of speaking on behalf of God and an unhealthy dose of pride. On the one hand, I am flabbergasted by my responsibility. The sermon is a moment of incarnation as Jesus Christ takes on flesh once again and walks amidst us in the congregation. This kind of pressure makes for a lot of restless Saturday nights—just ask my wife. At the same time, I tend to think that I can control God; it’s the vestiges of what we call sin. In the eyes of a pastor, a bad sermon ruins a worship service and a great sermon is the kingdom come. But really, I am not that important.  A poorly written sermon might reach more people than the finest theological rhetoric.  

God is not restrained and controlled by my words—thank God. And more often than not, God is usually revealed in the messiness of worship.  That’s relieving and humbling when I choose to remember it.  When a seven-year old child looks you in the face and says, “in the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven,” a sermon on power seems shallow.  That’s Jesus, right? A gentleman lets the congregation know that his best friend is dying while the rest of the congregation nods in silence and Jesus fills that moment of silence and weakness with presence. These moments are more important than my words.

We must expect Jesus to manifest himself in strange ways if the cross is the supreme act of revelation. Cruciform revelation means that the ‘powerless’ ends up becoming most powerful and the last become first. We think that Jesus must only be revealed in powerful words, but never forget that Jesus is also found when you dip a piece of bread into a cup of juice. Who are we to control God?

 Every Sunday a parishioner with a mental disability rings the “Trinity bell” three times and then holds the brass up to his teeth to feel the vibration. I am gratefully humbled when I realize that the bell means more to him than my words. That’s where I find grace every Sunday. For I realize that Jesus is, in fact, here with us and it’s not because of me.