I’ve been reading books on homiletics when I have time because although I don’t think I’m a bad public speaker, I have some room for growth as a preacher. And that’s fine. As long as my people are being fed and ministered to on any given Sunday, I don’t have to be the best. But I want to be the best. So, I’m learning how to do this better.
As I’ve studied and practiced, I’m realizing more and more that preaching is a strange experience from either side of the pulpit. A person stands up in front of others and talks about the Bible or some theme, and about Jesus. Some of these talks are polished. Others aren’t. Some are backed up by some solid study and writing, with excellent grammar and an understanding of flow and rhythm. Others are a hot mess of emotion and stammering, punctuated with umms, backed with fears of accidentally swearing. Maybe that last one is just me.
Preaching is a lot like the Wizard of Oz, except backward. In her wanderings around Oz, Dorothy made friends. All of whom have a need that they believe can be met by this fantastical wizard. They make it to the Emerald City, then to the place where the wizard is going to meet with them. You remember how it goes, a grotesque face appears. There are fire and smoke and it feels really Old Testament but in a mid-century modern kind of way. It’s riveting because this powerful being is going to have exactly what they all need or want to get on with their lives.
Dorothy’s little dog, Toto jumps from her arms and does what we should all do a little more often; he follows his nose. Over to a curtain. The cunning beast pulls a Scooby-Doo and reveals to the rest of his party that this phantasm before them is a puppet. It’s not real. The illusion of power and grandeur is just that. A tiny man hidden behind a curtain was pulling levers and doing all of the work.
Preaching is the opposite of this! The Bible has plenty of stories of bright lights and fire and God’s inestimable power on display. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with brimstone falling from heaven is a great example. Or after the prophet Elijah had what was basically a rap battle with a bunch of prophets of Baal, fire fell from heaven and consumed the altar that he’d built and flooded with water. God has the power to do some crazy stuff. But in this moment, he chooses to put weakness out front. He decided that men should preach to each other while he does the work in the background or in the unseen places of our hearts. He’s hidden behind a curtain (but not really, his hidey curtain got ripped down the middle when Jesus died) while pastors and preachers give it their all. In 1 Corinthians 1:27, Paul wrote,
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…”
This is the God we serve, the creator of all of the things, including mosquitos and house music. He gets the glory when we who are weak find strength in him, when our lives are changed even after hearing a mediocre sermon. There are plenty of amazing preachers out there, but the principle still applies. He uses us when he could be leading us with smoke and fire and explosions in the sky. It’s a humbling place to be. But a good one, too.
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Because I write more sermons than posts lately, I feel like I need to end with a point of application. Be nice to your preacher, but be honest with them, too. A pat on the butt after a sermon accompanied by a “good job” doesn’t do much. Let your pastor know that God is at work during the sermon- unless he isn’t. We need to hear that too, so we can make some changes.