Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why preachers need to preach -- and not give lectures

I was listening to an interview today with a woman whose father was a preacher. And she spoke about the powerful sermons he gave every Sunday. Sermons about social justice, about the needs of the poor, and about the downtrodden.

And all of these things are very, very important. It's just that they are not what we should remember about preaching.

I've mentioned that I think that writing down sermons is sometimes problematic. Because there's a great temptation to provide an eloquent address, to give a thoughtful theological lecture, to speak to Current Events.

There's a tradition in the Primitive Baptist churches that sermons should not be written down. At all. The one preaching meditates on the passage he's chosen, thinks about it, ponders it, prays about it, and stands to preach, and hopes that the Holy Spirit will speak through him as he preaches.

And maybe there's wisdom in that. Preaching the gospel in catholic Christianity involves using the pericopes given to us. And it means using those texts, preaching those texts, explicating those texts (and primarily the gospel pericope) to the hearers.

Such a sermon will not be a religious lecture. It may speak about the poor, it may treat of social justice issues, it may address or be about the downtrodden. It may even address current events. But we should trust the Holy Spirit to have an applicable text for when the text is needed.

Giving religious lectures can be easy. The preacher can deal with issues he's concerned about. But he can also become a nag, a scold, a ranter about an issue of concern to him.

St. Paul (Acts 20.27) said that he had "not shunned to declare all the counsel of God." Giving religious lectures -- even needed religious lectures -- is not the way to do that. Instead, preach the gospel. St. Paul counseled St. Timothy thus: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (I Timothy 4.2) Luther's example here is a very good one. He often just went through, verse by verse, explaining, teaching, correcting by the text. We could do far worse than that, and those who listen would have the whole counsel of God. What's to be preached is not the preacher's counsel, but God's. Remembering that is a good thing.

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