I admit I'm not comfortable with the title "preacher". When someone calls me "the preacher",I suspect they do so with some ambivalence. I think the assumption is that a preacher comes to talk at people, spouting moral absolutes and biblical imperatives that judge, convict, and condemn the hearers. Preachers purport to speak for God or maybe audaciously as God. Preachers stand on street corners with bullhorns and condemn bad behaviors. Preachers threaten people with the fire of hell. And they do so as those sent by God, as ambassadors or representatives. Some are charlatans and salesmen and liars, for sure. Some are just adding to the noise. And they make it harder for the authentic preacher to be heard. They bluster and shout and tell some people want they want to hear, just so that they will be praised by their hearers.
Now I'm not that kind of a preacher. But I am passionate about the Word of God and the people of God. And I believe there is good news, hopeful news, empowering and encouraging news to share with the world that is contained in the biblical story. Stories about the hungry being fed, the blind receiving sight, violent enemies being defeated, prayers being answered, goodness overcoming evil, light overcoming darkness, the power of life defeating the power of death. There is also a way of life described and embodied by people in the bible. From Abraham to Paul, the bible is full of fallible humans who, by the help of the Spirit of God, transcend their fallibility and enter into the creative work of God. There is redemptive suffering, liberation for oppressed captives, nonviolent resistance to evil, and sacrificial love found in the bible. The bible contains a story worth sharing, but it does require interpretation. The bible was not meant to be read privately. It is a community's holy Word. It seems that God appoints or sends people to do this sort of work of interpretation; someone who is just bold or crazy enough to ask the scripture and the God who speaks through it (to those with the ears of faith), "What does this mean?" I think this is the task of a preacher. To inquire and dig and search on behalf of the community of hearers who gather and on behalf of all the searchers for the truth about the things that matter the most. This is the business of theology and the theologian. Not to be confused with the academic or the biblical/religious scholar. Though they are called theologians too. I'm speaking of the human task of making sense of life from a perspective that requires God, a being than which nothing greater is possible--to paraphrase Anselm.
Theology means a Word about God. Divine speech. How we talk about God, ultimate things, things that matter the most. The bible is the collected theology of an ancient middle eastern people that developed over the course of some 2,500 years. And yet, its content lives and breathes and gives meaning to contemporary life in 2015, too. There is a timelessness to it.
I've been preaching to a congregation for 10 years now. They hear me speak about biblical texts and God most weeks. In 10 years, I guess I've preached about 500 sermons. But, I probably improvise on a hand full of common themes; Grace, compassionate service, beloved community, baptism, the table and Lord's supper, hospitality and generosity. I'd like to be more versatile, more humorous, and more creative in my delivery and content. But I suspect that's my concern and not the concern of my hearers. They are more concerned about their own lives; the house, the family, their work, their physical and mental health, etc...And shouldn't they be? A Word about and from God that is disconnected from the world in which we live and move and have our being is not a word anyone can hear. Thus the power and promise of the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was the Word made flesh. God comes to dwell with us and to know our stories and to claim us as beloved children.
I'm convinced more and more that there is good news to be shared. I'm convinced also that it is not good news if one is not willing or able to hear it as such. And it is not good news if the announcer is not also thoroughly convinced of its goodness. I'm convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a preacher of good news precisely for the people who needed good news the most. And that any preacher's job is to find the people who long to hear good news and to share it with them, for them. I'm certain that any preacher of good news will find in equal measure people who reject the message, hate the message, and care not for the message. Chiefly because this good news threatens our own sense of what is good with an alternative narrative about the world in which we live. A narrative that suggests that the losers and the poor and the brokenhearted and the oppressed and the weak and the dying and the insignificant are treasured, cherished, and valued by God the giver of life is a story that might threaten the winners and the powerful and the wealthy and the great. Its why some preachers have been crucified. What does it mean to be sent? Who sends? How does one know this? What word must one speak? What shall we say? Can silence speak? These are the questions the preacher asks.
And there are no easy answers. Self-reflection is 90% of the work. The other 10% is what comes out of my mouth.
What would be good news for you right now? What does your Spirit need to hear?
Lord, give us your words; words of life and love and freedom and grace. Give us courage to speak and to listen. Amen.