What is Preaching?
Thomas Long, in his book The Witness of Preaching, says that most preachers are guided by several images of who the preacher is and what he or she does. One is that of the Herald, who proclaims the Word of God through the sermon, “like a king through the mouth of his herald” (Karl Barth’s words), trying to keep himself out of the way. Another is that of the Pastor, called to address people’s concerns and help them make sense of their lives in light of the gospel. A third is that of Storyteller, sharing the story of the Bible and the Christian faith, allowing that story to work its power. A fourth – suggested by Long - is one of a Witness, telling the truth, as best she can, about what she has seen or heard of God in Christ. The images both complement and compete with one another, and most pastors (including this one) see themselves as a mixture of all four, with some images stronger than others, depending on the preacher and the Sunday.
But however we see ourselves, Christian preachers are called to listen for God’s Word in scripture, even on Sundays when we may be preaching on a creed or contemporary issue and the Bible is in the background. When we listen for the Word in scripture, Long points out that we do not go to the Bible alone. We listen with our own questions, concerns and prejudices, certainly – that’s unavoidable and as it should be. But we do, and should, come with more: with tools and knowledge gained from the community of scholars; with an understanding of our theological heritage; with an awareness of our culture and of the needs of the world; and of course, with lots of prayer and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. We’re also called to go to the Bible with the questions and concerns of those to whom we’ll be preaching, for we go on behalf of the church – both the congregation and the universal church.
Most weeks, I have to imagine the questions, reactions, and concerns you may bring to the text, based on my life among you. And most weeks -- I confess – my personal questions shape my preaching, and I just hope they’re shared by some of you. But starting on Wednesday, January 12th, at 7:30, you’ll have a chance to share with me (and vice versa) questions, concerns and reactions to the scripture for the coming Sunday. We’ll also hear what scholars have to say and we’ll pray with it. I won’t be able to address everyone’s particular concern or question each week, but I’m sure the shared conversation will make us more receptive to the Word, both in the preaching and the hearing. And based on past Bible studies, I know it will be interesting and fun! I hope you’ll be able to join us.
Grace and Peace,