It happens all the time. Sermon time comes and I step into the moment and the Spirit does that work that she does. The people of God and I jump on a surfboard together and we ride the wave of the experience to the end. Then we stand, dripping wet on the beach, saying to each other, “Wow. What a ride.”
I love that ride and the moment that comes after.
However I often don’t get to see where that experience will take people. I don’t get to see how that preaching event will effect them in their lives with God. However I trust that Jesus will be glorified and that he will draw his beloved ones closer to him through what I’ve said.
Yet, when it comes time to talk about myself as a preacher I fail. When people compliment me as a preacher, I downplay my role in preaching. When my peers compliment me I feel awkward and quickly change the subject. At moments that are vocationally important I gloss over this strength and actually say nothing about it. I don’t know why I do this but here is what I think about preaching.
First off I believe that humility is a true Christian virtue and I want that in my life. Jesus himself teaches it. On the night before he is crucified he washed his disciples feet to teach them a lesson in humble service. He said of himself, “The Som of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the many.” Paul said,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
We are called to lives of humble service. Preaching is one of many ways of service. Therefore it must be approached with humility.
Furthermore I know that I have been given a gift. I have been given the spiritual gift of preaching. I didn’t create the gift. I didn’t earn the gift. I don’t deserve the gift. The Spirit of God look down and said, “Here. I’m giving you this gift.” So I can’t take credit for the gift.
Now for the next step. What do you do with a gift. From Jesus on down through the lives of saints it is clear that when God gives a gift, God is expecting good use of that gift. In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents those who are given money, use it and build on it and increase it. They are praised for what they did. Jesus concludes that those who follow him follow that example of good stewardship. Paul says it more more bluntly when he says, “One thing is required of stewards and that is that they be faithful.”
And so I’m responsible for how I use the gift I’ve been given. It is required of me that I be faithful. It is required that I use the gift well. And so what does that look like? I believe it means using the gift as widely as I can. I seek places where I can share the gift. So I preach in my home congregation, Christ Church in Seattle’s University District. I also accept invitations to preach outside of my home congregation.
Still most of the time I spend with the gift takes place in preparation for its use. That preparation includes careful study of the Scriptures. I believe good Biblical exegesis is the foundation of good preaching. For me that means sitting down with the Greek texts and studying them in detail. It means seeking expert help on passages that are difficult for me.
After that work is done I ask what is going on in that congregation where I’ll be preaching. That question is easier to answer when I have a sense of what a congregation is doing and what is important to it. I also ask what is happening in the congregation’s community. What is going in the literal and physical surroundings. And finally I ask what is happening in the larger context. Then I ask where are the points of connections between the text, the congregation, its community and the larger context.
This is where the magic starts. The gift engages. It gathers all that prep work and those questions and takes me somewhere. I cannot explain this. Thoughts form. Ideas consolidate. This thing takes shape and grows. I’m following it. I’m working with it. I’m crafting. I’m listening. I’m speaking. I’m holding. I’m feeling. I’m thinking.
This work goes on all the way up to the moment that preaching begins. And then it continues into the delivery itself. The gift comes to the fore but I’m still working with it. Still seeking to be a faithful steward of it.
Then it happens. Spirit does that work that she does. The people of God and I jump on a surfboard together and we ride the wave of the experience to the end. Then we stand, dripping wet on the beach, saying to each other, “Wow. What a ride.”