Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Preaching and Being Called

In the February 8, 2011 issue of Christian Century, Wil Willimon wrote an insightful (as if he might write anything else) article, entitled "Voice Lessons", on preaching. He relates his experience of preaching and teaching others how to preach to the movie The King's Speech. The two situations are analogous. Willimon writes about the task that Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who help King George, is charged with.
Logue helped George to see that a nation desperately needed its king to say the right thing in the right way. We who are preachers speak because we have been enlisted, because no one else can say what must be said, because we are called to serve God through words.
The task Willimon reminds us is not to "speak what's on our heart" but to speak the Word of God. This task is where faith is built. Over the past seven years, week in week out, I have wrestled with this task of proclaiming the gospel. I preached in the pulpit. I left the pulpit. I had manuscripts. I went without them. I tried preaching somewhat didactically. I tried being more story-oriented. Now, after seven years, I find myself somewhere near where I started but not quite. I have returned to the pulpit. I have re-acquired the manuscript. I focus more on kerygmatic sermons. And I take the task more seriously, because I heard some blessed voices that challenged me to take the preaching task more seriously. Willimon's article is a blessed reminder for me still. Willimon writes:
We preachers speak not because we need to get something off our chests but because God wants to say something to God's people.... Left to my own devices, I might say what I'm really thinking--but the church could care less about what I'm thinking. The pressing question: "Is there any word from the Lord?"
It is a task that we preachers are called to. I routinely tell young adults who are considering serving in public ministry that there are times I know God called me because I never would have chosen it. Sometimes this comment is met with laughter, and it is funny, but it is also deadly serious. It is not without fear and trepidation sometimes that I climb up into my champagne flute pulpit. Or with butterflies in my stomach as I descend, because I recognize that something has happened. The Word of the Lord came to me... and the congregation I serve in that sermon. It is not a task I would routinely choose. I might choose to get up and tell stories and entertain. But this task is something else. To encounter the gospel and its connection to the world that my parishioners inhabit is something I am compelled by being called.

Willimon's article is a good reminder for all of us, lay and ordained alike, but mainly for those who are called to the task of preaching. To stand before a congregation and proclaim the Word is a gift given to us by God in which God is made known and present.

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