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Preaching must seem, to some, a strange, anachronistic activity in our interactive age…a kind of horse and buggy leftover from another place and time, significantly out of touch with the supersonic 21st century, where it’s all about interfacing, and Googling, and social network websites, satnav and IPhones…
Preaching…come on…surely its day has passed?
Surely this activity, of any, is the most out of synch with how we get our message across in our times…with PowerPoint and feedback and evaluation and the jargon developed by the new high priests of communication…?
People might ask, and they might well ask…why should we listen to this guy, or that woman?
Why is there no opportunity to challenge, to answer back… to phone in with our reaction?
We just sit here and listen…and he, or she, rambles on – and we can’t ask questions, get them to stop and clarify things better… It’s all announcement and declaration and affirmation – one person’s viewpoint…
I am a huge believer in preaching as a means of sharing the faith, touching lives, changing things…and I believe that, because…amazingly,
I know, because people tell me, and I experience it myself, that hearing a sermon can inspire and uplift…remind us of some truth that we have let slip, some glorious aspect of the love of God that we had forgotten for a while…and there in the moment we are held and captivated, reminded and encouraged…as the truth is told once more in a way that reaches deep into our thinking and touches our heart.
And we learn things…new ideas are presented: we are invited to take our thinking into new areas, and the wonderful story of the faith is presented to us with fresh insight, informed consideration of the great truths we are heir to, and we see it all in new ways, or are taken in different directions…
And, that happens in the context of preaching offered and received.
And we find comfort too, in the ancient truths revisited, the glories of the gospel of God’s eternal love declared……wherever we have been, whatever we have done, we hear announced afresh that the love of God enfolds us and keeps us…and that his grace is sufficient for all our needs.
When we are broken, his word sounds hope and healing…when we are lost, the invitation to come home rings true and beautiful…and when our failures haunt and cripple us, the preacher assures us that the forgiveness and welcome of God are for people just like we are…and our hearts are strangely warmed by these glorious truths.
Preaching works because it can unsettle us…take us reluctantly from our comfortable places and point us towards needs and situations that summon us…and challenge our complacencies.
There is a mistaken assumption that sharing in worship and sitting under the sound of the gospel must be immensely comforting and like a cosy security blanket…whereas in fact, sitting under the searing truth of God can be significantly uncomfortable…as the Lord calls us to this service or that…challenges us with the laser beam of his holiness and justice…and we cannot stay the same… not if we are truly listening. This is our life that is being challenged…our decision that is being looked for. No, not comfort zone stuff at all.
And the process can change lives. People invited to choose faith and follow Christ…calls given to particular areas of service that we know we must respond to with a good heart or lose our destiny. Come. You. By name. In your heart. Now. Decide. Choose. In or out…for or against…this is your moment. And we know it’s true and we know it’s us!! Nothing cosy about that. Nothing easy about that disruptive, and life-altering dynamic.
(Of course, the truth is sometimes it doesn’t seem to change some people one little bit, and there are ministers and priests the length and breadth of the land who tear their hair out over the reality that there are some people who seem impervious to preaching, untouched, unchanged, and unaltered – even after sitting under the sound of long years of faithful passionate, biblical preaching…and there they are, just as grumpy, difficult, irascible and negative…just as dug in, un- budging and intolerant as they ever were…
That can happen….and that can happen even when most of the key elements in the effectiveness of preaching are all largely in place…
Because that is the mystery, and the humbling miracle…how does it work when it works? What ingredients go into the mix to make the recipe work effectively?
There is usually an inspired preacher with a word from the Lord…the kind of word from the Lord…that Paul is speaking about to the church at Thessolonika…
“When we brought you God’s message you accepted it, not as man’s message but as God’s message, which indeed it is.”
rooted in Scripture, prayed through in the Spirit of Christ…born out of the fundamental principles of Christian belief…something true is reaching out to be heard…a word from the Lord…
And when that word is going out to the heart and mind of a seeker, a listener…an open hearted and open-minded listener who actually wants a word from the Lord and is eager to receive one…the reality bites…the miracle happens.
Our attitude is a factor in this all working…
If we are waiting, looking, listening humbly for God’s truth for our life…and that goes hand in hand with a preacher who has sought a word from the Lord…a powerful, dynamic, situation exists there, plump with opportunity.
And in with and under all of this…baptising the whole endeavour with power and love is the Spirit of God…who seems able to overcome the failures and inadequacy of the preacher…the lack of preparation and grasp of their material…the irritating little ways they might have… this Spirit of God seems able to overcome the tiredness of the congregation who couldn’t sleep last night…or stayed up too late…or are wearing new uncomfortable shoes…or don’t hear so well…or have a cold…or whatever…and the Spirit of God can wing that word, nonetheless, to the heart that needs it…regardless of the context, the countless distractions…to work the miracles of God’s grace.
And we go away sure that we have been encountered by important truths…taken to new uneasy places…dared to believe with a renewed passion in the God who speaks to our need…to our life…to us…through the strange archaic stumbling thing that is preaching the word.
I think it was John Reid when he was Home Secretary who coined the phrase…fit for purpose…is this or that fit for purpose…well, here is one thing that is most certainly, still after all these years, fit for purpose. I know because it has shaped and changed and enriched my life…and others tell me it lifts their hearts, steels their nerve and draws an Amen from their soul.
Preaching still works!
The real challenge is to make sure people hear it…part of our calling in the church is to work hard to make sure they get to where they can hear it…then the Spirit of Christ will work all the miracles we need.
And then, when we run out of words, or cannot find the right words – or build defensive walls against the word…we are offered bread and wine…and the truth of the gospel reaches into the heart of us…and we know and we are filled with wonder at this love story placed in our hands.