Sermon of the Week
Elements of Worship:
God Speaks — The Word
Keywords: sermon, revelation, The Word, long talks, nature, The Bible.
It wasn’t that long ago
that my kids described what I do for a living as “giving long talks.”
It was a clarifying moment.
A pastor’s work is more than preaching
but maybe the most visible work is here, during these 20 minutes
when scripture is read
and the preacher climbs into a pulpit
or stands before an audience assembled
and dares to venture a holy word.
I’m not kidding, this is an audacious thing to ask of any person
and every preacher worth her salt that I’ve ever heard or met or known
does this with no small amount of trepidation, with an extra dash of hope
that they don’t mess it up too badly.
I mean, because, who can truly speak a word from God?
Preachers, to be sure, know that we’re just human beings,
that we are often asking the selfsame questions you are,
that no matter how many times people tell me
that I better be praying
so that the rain will keep away from the big event next week,
or ask me if I’ve been using that special telephone-line-to-God in my office…
we know all too well that we’re just like you in that regard.
In our tradition, our preachers are called teaching elders
people like any other,
who study and prepare and develop a set of skills,
and then are thrown into this unlikely task
not unlike a mother bird sometimes pushes her chick over the edge
and hopes she’ll figure out one way or another how to fly.
And, truth be told,
I don’t much trust preachers who never experienced any of that,
but who always felt that they were gifted, chosen, the mouthpiece of the Lord.
The biblical authors,
when they give examples of God
seeking to communicate
what’s going on in God’s mind,
sometimes they stir up a cloud, you know,
beckon people up to a mountain top,
offer up an angelic messenger or two
sometimes accompanied by the heavenly host…
all of this awe inspiring, to say the least.
And when human beings were singled out for this task
they weren’t so sure about it.
Moses. Jeremiah. Noah.
Most of them ran at the thought.
But since Pentecost, at least,
the followers of Jesus have been entrusted, somehow,
with the task of listening for a word from God,
and then trying to faithfully share that word with others.
When I try to describe my preparation for this sort of thing
I sometimes fail to have words for it.
It took a long time, maybe years,
for me to feel comfortable in a pulpit
but I never feel too comfortable.
I think that’s because of what preaching is.
Preaching is a task that requires, at one and the same time,
honesty, humility, and assertiveness:
–truth telling, when people need to hear what is going on,
and sometimes don’t want to hear it…
–an awareness of our individual limitations and finite perspective,
so that we know, as we prepare, as we speak,
that what we offer isn’t the final word on the subject,
— and conviction, nevertheless, that this is what I hear God saying, today,
and I can’t not talk about it.
You’ve heard that song “How can I keep from Singing?”
There’s something like that with this exercise, every week, for the one tasked with offering a sermon.
The main tools of a preacher.
And in our tradition, that’s not enough.
We rely on God,
to inspire the preacher
in the questions he asks
the research she does
the preparation undertaken
and the courage to preach…
but more than that
we rely on God to open the heart and the ear of the listener
so that they might consider what is offered
mull it over, wrestle with it
agree here, disagree there
and in that engagement, experience a Word from the Lord. [Read more…]