Thursday, April 17, 2008

Preaching, why we do it Part II

Following up on an earlier post, I want to offer a brief and simple overview to keep those of us who preach focused on the rhyme and reason for entering the pulpit in the first place. These are practical items.

1. Preaching must be pastoral.

A good sermon need not be the most clever, the finest writing, nor a brilliant display of theater or performing arts. On the other hand, it must not become merely a ceremonial routine, something to get through because, well, there it is in the rubrics. A good sermon must come from a pastoral heart, and be delivered by a father who loves his congregation and wants to feed them. It must come from a physician who wants to heal wounds, diagnose illness, and provide a cure. This is why I advise you who preach, not to look at the ceiling, the door to the church, or any other fixed point, but to move your eyes across the congregation, engaging people face to face, while you speak to their minds and hearts. This is about feeding them, curing their souls, helping them to know the Father and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3). It must never become anything less, and it is your responsibility to see that it does not.

2. Preaching must be theological

By "theological" I do not mean academic, since the challenge in preaching is not to speak to scholars and theologians, but to communicate to everyone. That, far more than academic speaking, is the more difficult. By "theological" I mean that it must be based on the revelation of God in scripture, and it must bring out the true meaning.

Believe it or not, people really do want to understand their Faith. Some clergy think that people will choke on theology, and that it is best not to present it to them. The people have just said the great Creed of our Faith, a creed filled with the most profound words that summarize the whole Bible, and therefore contain the height and depth of Divine revelation. It is a literary puzzle also, jumping from metaphor to direct statement of fact; for example: "...light of light, very God of very God..." If they can say these words, they deserve some explanation. And, it is your responsibility and office to teach them.

The Incarnation, which includes the entirety of the Gospel, is theology- real theology as revealed by God. In order to meet the needs of the people, in line with point number one above, this is the medicine, and the food.

3. Preaching must be Biblical

You are called and ordained to preach the Word of God, not your own ideas; not even your own good ideas. The scriptures have been read to the whole congregation, and you have no need to find anything else for your material. Furthermore, you must not draw from any other material as your main text and direction. You must draw out the meaning of the scriptures.

At the risk of looking egotistical, I will quote another earlier post:

"While walking the earth, the Son of God proclaimed that the Old Testament scriptures were, in fact, actually testifying about Him. After His resurrection He expounded on the meaning of all the scriptures as the things concerning Himself, and opened the minds of His disciples to understand them.

"So, too, the New Testament is rich with the reports of Christ’s actions, His words, His life, His death and His resurrection. They tell us, also, who He is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,2, 14).” It goes on to tell us how His Incarnation is extended in this world through time and space by His Church, founded by Him and indwelt by His Spirit. The doctrines of that Church are forever enshrined in the Epistles, and our hope made firm by the last prophetic Revelation.

"This is the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, a fire that bursts forth and blazes, consuming everything, and making new life. It is a power that transcends every natural force, and every embellishment of those forces, electric or atomic. “The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; the voice of the LORD is a glorious voice…the voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness (Psalm 29: 4, 7 BCP).” The scriptures kill and make alive, meeting the truest and deepest needs of man. And yet, many clergymen struggle very hard, trying to think of something to say. Why?

"Every seminary everywhere ought to teach a very important principle: It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, or to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive- truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting from the stroke, he prevents the healing. If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay and stubble instead of gold, silver and precious stones.

"It far easier to preach if a man will ride the scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point, and arrive at their own destination (informed by the Tradition of the Church). If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of Hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep. Let the meaning of the scriptures be expounded to their full effect, proclaiming from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care."

There it is: 1. Pastoral 2.Theological 3. Scriptural.

One last word of advice: If all this seems a bit too much for a mere man, all the better. Pray earnestly for the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, both in giving you grace and power to preach, and to the people the grace to hear and receive. None of us can afford anything less than prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit.


Alice C. Linsley said...

This is so good! I've printed a copy and filed it for future reference.

Reading this makes me realize the sacred duty of clergy and why the devil works overtime to distract them from preaching. May God grant the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who seek to proclaim His Word faithfully and humbly.

Abu Daoud said...

Nice. I have been blogging evangelii nuntiandi and the most recent entry was on the homily as an evangelistic tool.

poetreader said...

As a preacher (no longer authorized, but still writing sermons), I really appreciate what you've been writing on the subject. Much of it is thoughts I've long had and never managed to state clearly. Thank you.