Monday, September 24, 2018
Not the same. . .
The truth is I have been known to glaze over during some sermons. I well recall a 47 minute sermon in which I went from nearly nodding off to being angry that the preacher had used so much time to say so little. I understand the problems of those in the pews who have listened to all sorts of things all week and who are now expected to listen with full attention to the preacher who can expect them to take note (at least for the first 13-15 minutes or so). I am not blind. I watch the faces of parents who are struggling to make sure their fidgety children do not become the sermon and aching elderly who are trying to keep their minds from their pain long enough to actually hear a sentence or two from the sermon. I see the hands using the bulletin as a fan when the air is stuffy and who shiver under too light a jacket when the air is cool. But the power of the sermon is not in the star who stands in pulpit but in the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Our attention is requested because it is the Lord speaking through the mouth of the pastor and not because the pastor is so great.
Being good at preaching may help you keep attentive when the sermon is empty but it will leave you empty on the way out. A faithful preacher may not compare to the gifted orators for whom the sermon is an extended monologue in which to shine but they will give you what you need to find peace from a guilty conscience, life in the shadow of death, and hope for an uncertain tomorrow -- all by the Word of the Cross! I would certainly counsel preachers to work at the craft of preaching but I would also counsel the hearers not to judge by star quality -- this is not The Voice or America's Got Talent. No, judge the sermon by what is said. And that requires you to know the truth of God's Word well enough to sift through the words to find the Word of life. In that way, every sermon is only half the pastor's or preacher's responsibility for the other half belongs to the hearer.
Be not deceived. Being good at preaching is not the same as being a good preacher. To those charged with the task of preaching, work at both so that you do not become a hindrance to the Word or to the hearer. To those charged with hearing the Word of the Lord preached, work at knowing the Word so that you may recognize when it is faithfully spoken and rejoice in its promise and gift.
By the way, I do not write this as one who smugly presumes I am better than I am in the pulpit. I struggle even after over 39 years of writing sermons and delivering them. But a little holy fear about preaching is not at all a bad thing. In fact, it could be exactly the right medicine for the malady before us of people who are good at preaching but not good preachers.