Monday, March 27, 2006


Some of you are longtime preachers and others are in seminary like me. Still others of you have never tried - or maybe even fear - preaching. These thoughts from day one of my homiletics class may interest any of you. If not, well...go read something else, I guess.

The prof told us we're all preachers. Now already. Even if we think we're not a preacher, we have no idea what God has in mind for us. God has brought us here to school, and is preparing us to be preachers, because someday God may need us to preach. His assumption is we're all preachers and we all have what it takes to be a faithful and effective preacher. At the same time, we have nothing to say unless we are speaking God's word (not our word).

If one is good at preaching, it will be a big temptation to enjoy it too much. It's good to have someone (a spouse) who can say it's not your best work. Preaching is ego-gratifying, and it's a temptation to give in to that. Our best efforts are merely a vehicle for the Word of God. An image: someone carrying a candle in a dark room - the candle is the focus of everyone in the room, but the candle-bearer is still seen, in the illumination of the candle's light.

And if we do badly, Christ is not seen, only our ineptitude.

Simplicity and clarity: a single objective toward which we work. We're going to learn how to do one point sermons. A common error is to try to do too much. We must learn economy of speech - say just what you intend to say and nothing more. Fortunately, our sermons are not graded!

So what is at stake when you preach? The faith of God's people. Without that in mind, your preaching is never compelling, because it will not be urgent. Tragedy is always striking someone in your congregation, and they need a word from the Lord, and that's your job to provide, as the preacher.

Say it with me: I will not become a great preacher in the next 10 weeks!

But perhaps I will experience the joy of doing what God has called me to, and knowing God has worked through me during a sermon.

Exegesis for preaching is to be certain about what God has to say to God's people - not to show how learned you are! Preaching wants to be a clear message of the gospel, not something erudite or well-read. Great preaching is not always in your hands, but being faithful is.

The four essential engagements of preaching:
1. Engagement with a text - diligently, faithfully, not as a passing reference point, but thoroughly ground your sermon in the message of Scripture.
2. Engagement with the context of the preaching moment. A sermon is always particular, never general. The sermon is always a Proper (not an Ordinary).
3. Theological engagement
4. Engagement with the hearts and minds of the listeners: to the head, clear logical easy to follow; to the heart, something that speaks more deeply (but they have to understand what you're saying first!).

Ha ha! He's forcing us to write out our sermons!

I feel like I'm missing some kind of humility I'm supposed to have about preaching. Maybe I'll get it from the books we'll read on theology of preaching. I just am not really all that afraid of it. J points out to me that evangelicals fear it because it's "the main event" in their services. In our services, it's important, but it's not the be-all and end-all.

Now, when it comes time for me to do a Eucharist, then I will be wetting my pants. That is what scares me!

But preaching, I dunno. Maybe I'm overconfident and I'll suck at it. But I'm just a good public speaker, seem to be a decent writer, and so it just doesn't worry me that much. Perhaps when I'm in front of a group of real people, not my seminary peers, I'll start to be scared. I'll start to feel the weight of what I'm doing. Or maybe I won't.

Anyway, I think preaching class is going to be lots of fun. I'll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

I think for us catholic/magisterial/ecclesial/sacramental/whatever types, you're right that preaching is not as big a deal. I was pretty nervous giving my first homily and sped through it, but by the second time, I was fine. As I understand it, you have a background in this kind of thing, so you should have no problem.

Having the Eucharist at the center of worship takes almost all the pressure off. Hopefully when you preach you can get across some specific idea that helps the congregation grow spiritually. But the main reason why they're there is to participate in the miracle of the Mass and experience God's nearness through the bread and wine.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fabulous post on preaching. You simultaneously give me confidence (You are already a preacher) and show me what I know to be a liability in myself (If one is good at it, it will be a big temptation to enjoy it too much).