Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Listening and Speaking
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote "We have so much to say about the Bible that we are not prepared to hear what the Bible has to say about us..." This rabbi definitely is able to say the profound in a few simple words. But it is a painful truth.
In the morning paper a column by George Will decried the abundance of personal pronouns in the speeches of the President and Michelle Obama in Copenhagen as the site of the 2016 Olympics was being decided. Will counted 44 uses of "I" in Mrs. Obama's speech and 26 in the President's brief remarks. He suggested that perhaps they had forgotten that this was about Chicago and its bid -- not about them, their feelings, their history, or their aspirations. Ouch.
What if someone kept track of the number of personal pronouns in the average sermon? Or Bible study? Would we Pastors be so embarrassed? What if someone looked over the grammar of our prayers and checked up on the number of "I" statements there? Would we be shocked by the way even our prayers are more about us than about God?
The painful truth is that too many sermons speak about Scripture without listening to Scripture. Too many times we Pastors think of the pulpit as the place where we talk about God, about the faith, about Scripture -- but from our own personal perspective -- instead of speaking the Word. Period. So we provide a good bad example to our people that this is the way to approach the Word of God.
The painful truth is that so often we have so much to say, we do not listen. What might be a faux pas in polite conversation becomes a terrible failing when the conversation is with God. Ultimately the goal of the preacher is to listen to the Word so that you can speak it to the people -- in the language of today, to the situations you know in the lives of the people of the parish, explaining it without detracting from what it says and applying it without removing yourself from the application as another sinner in need of the gifts and grace that Scripture bestows upon those who listen.
Listening here does not merely mean polite silence -- it means faith. Faith is what is required to hear the voice of God and to silence our own hearts so that His voice may speak and do its wonderful bidding within us and through us.
It is not a bad thing to look over the sermon and see who is speaking through its words -- is it filled with "I" messages that make it about me or from me... or does it speak strongly and clearly with the voice of God -- His authority, His message, and His result... it gives the preacher pause...