Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pulpit Pretensions

After reading Tom’s honest confession about his preaching, I got thinking about my own pulpit pretensions.

I have a love/hate relationship with preaching. I love the verbal/physical act of preaching. But it takes a lot out of me. I hate it when I have Sunday afternoon obligations. When I get home from church all I want to do is SLEEP.

But the worst part of preaching is Monday morning when I look at the bible readings for the coming week and – nothing. I have absolutely nothing to say about them. The readings frequently speak for themselves. Too often it feels like I’m stating the obvious. People aren’t stupid. They can read the lessons for themselves, and can usually figure out what the bible is trying to say. This is not rocket science.

Sometimes I panic. Other times I distract myself with other “more important” parts of ministry: meetings, worship planning, meetings, visitation, meetings, programming, and meetings. But I know that Sunday morning is coming. It always does. Whether or not I am ready.

I keep myself distracted because I’m afraid that I will stand up in front of the congregation, a group of people who assemble each week hungry for a word from God, and I’ll have to confess: “I’m empty. I have nothing to give you. The bread is stale and the wine’s gone sour. Let’s just sing some songs, say some prayers, and get outta here.”

It hasn’t happened yet. But I know that day is coming. It almost happened last Sunday.

It’s Thursday and I still don’t know what I’m preaching on this Sunday. Each week I’m terrified. I’m terrified I’ll have nothing to say. I’m terrified that I won’t be able to make God’s message of salvation credible or relevant. I’m terrified my words will fail and I will have sullied the Word that spoke all Creation into being.

To preach, to have the temerity to speak for God either requires great hubris or great humility – or both. You may ask how hubris and humility can co-exist. But they can. They MUST. My soul is a witch’s brew of mixed motivations. To preach you need an ego. It takes audacity to stand in front of people and say with conviction: These are the words of God!

But when I preach, I often fear my words are poison in the ears of the Almighty. It’s like I’m always on the edge of blasphemy and heresy, pushing the edges of polite discourse, wondering if I’m doing justice to God’s message of salvation.

So I ascend the pulpit with fear and trembling. But also cockiness and self-assuredness. I have worked hard. Each word has been deliberately placed. The rhythm of the phrases and the cadences of the sentences have been purposefully positioned to fit my pre-determined outline. My manuscript has been vetted, examined, scrutinized, and studied. I am prepared. I am ready to preach.

I take a deep breath, open my mouth, and hope for the best. Sometimes my words reach people in ways that only God alone can describe. Other days, my words fall to the floor, only to be trampled upon by my own dirty feet.

It is then that I need to remember that it’s not MY words that I proclaim. I have no personal message. The power of my sermons come - if they have any power at all - not from any facility with words that I think I may have, but from the Spirit that lives within my words. The Spirit that still broods over the waters breathing life and salvation into the whole creation. The Spirit that still descends from the clouds giving words that I couldn’t speak for myself. The Spirit that dares to proclaim God’s everlasting kingdom through an earthen vessel like me.

So I keep preaching. Even when my soul is in danger. Even when my words fail. Even when good news seems shallow and empty. I keep preaching because I still believe in God’s promises for a new creation.

Then I hide behind Jesus, clinging to the cross with both hands, clutching his message of the kingdom - the kingdom of peace, the kingdom of love, the kingdom of new and everlasting life.

And I open my mouth and announce: Good News! The Kingdom of God has arrived!

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