Sunday, November 13, 2016

The solemn task of the preacher. . .

It is right and just that at least once each Lent we are reminded that we don’t have to believe that God sent Jesus to suffer and die for us. There is no “happy fault or necessary sin.” Jesus did indeed die a violent death of crucifixion. That was an historical event. But the interpretation of the event is an act of theology and faith. And there are different interpretations in our Christian tradition.  So has the skeptic and critic disguised as a preacher attempted to explain the event of the crucifixion to a church full of people gathered to make the annual journey from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It happened in a Roman Catholic parish but it could have been many other churches. 

It helps to remember that our gospels are not exact histories or biographies.  They are faith proclamations.  At least three layers make up the gospels: the words and deeds of Jesus, later remembering and interpreting the life of Jesus (some preached, some written), and still later in new contexts the written gospels.  Again, the same idea.  Preaching that is not preaching.  Words to undermine the Word and tame the wild power of God deposited in means of grace.  The Gospel that is a word but not a fact, an idea but not truth.  Who wants that or need that?  The people in the pew certainly have a right to expect more from their pastors than the above.

Preaching is a sacred task and the relationship of preacher to people is one of solemn trust.  God gives no preacher the right to substitute his erudite opinions learned at the shrines of liberal education for what He has said.  The Church does not confer upon anyone the authority to speak his own doubts or fears as the voice of God.  What the preacher thinks or feels is of little importance to the people of God so it is imperative that those in the pew do not encourage the ramblings of skeptics in the place of real sermons.  It only diminishes the real power of the one voice that speaks and creation comes into being, the Word that the prophets proclaimed throughout the generations until it became flesh of the Virgin by the power of the Spirit, and the means of grace that has the power to release the sinner of his sins, cover up the tattered rags of failed righteousness with pure holiness, and deliver the sinner from the threat of death's verdict to the promise of everlasting life.

What God seeks is a preacher without guile who will speak the Word and preach it home without letting his own uncertainties or unique perspectives getting in the way of what God has said and done and the fruits of that redeeming work.  What people seek is exactly the same thing -- one who will speak in fashion and out the changeless Word of God that alone saves.  The preacher is tempted by his sincerity, his desire to make things happen, his need to be loved and respected, and his desire to impress the hearers with his own learning and intellect.  The people are tempted by their own sincerity, their desire to hear something that will make what they want to happen in their lives, their own desires to be loved and respected, and their contention that their intellect, learning, and perspective is no less legitimate than the preachers.  If the Spirit is working in him and the preacher is faithful, he will control all of these temptations and preach to the Word.  If the Spirit does as He has promised, He will prepare the ear to hear and the heart to believe that Word.  And that, my friends, is enough.

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