The Preacher’s Passion

loveaffairwiththewordIn order to preach the beauty of God’s Word, the preacher must not only trust it as the authority, but he must be able to see the beauty for himself. He must love it. And he must work diligently to make this love evident to the listeners.

In his book Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach, O.C. Edwards offers some critical discernment:

“When you come right down to it, the idea that the most exciting message the world has ever heard can be presented in a way that makes it sound old hat and dull is mind boggling. There are probably only two circumstances under which that could happen: (1) we are uninteresting, or (2) we find the gospel uninteresting. In either case, something ought to be done about it.”[1]

Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, relates a personal experience and continues the exemplary point:

“When I was an undergraduate at Yale University, students flocked to Alvin Kernan’s lecture courses on Shakespeare. Kernan’s work predated the academy’s current infatuation with ideological criticism. Even though it was the late 1960s and we were living in an atmosphere charged with political suspicion and protest, none of this overtly impinged on Kernan’s lectures. Kernan was not a flashy lecturer. What, then, was the draw? He loved the texts.”[2]

Kernan was an expert on Shakespeare, but being an expert did not make him a productive lecturer or teacher. His knowledge of Shakespeare was more than a tool. It fostered a love for his area of expertise that was visible to the students, expressed through language, and the students responded. The preacher is seen as the “expert” with regard to the Word of God, however, this Word must be more to him than an implement to be taken from his tool belt in order to complete the task at hand. It is what makes him a preacher and carries him to the pulpit. It is the music that makes him a musician. It is the paint that makes him a painter. But the skilled painter is not slapdash even with a looming deadline. In the case of the preacher, that deadline is the day of worship. When the brush of a painter in love with his craft meets the canvas, neither does he move forward in presenting the details of the work with sluggish carelessness as if the deadline was non-existent. The painter draws from the colorful realities of feature, aspect, and element and then aligns the hues into a perfected array in order to show that his painting is an expression of what already resides within himself. He paints because he loves to paint. His painting is an expression of that love. He will paint the landscape because he himself has stood upon the hilltop and gazed across the range, becoming a devoted lover of its mist and snow coverings, desirous of expressing his adoration of what he has seen with his own eyes.

Devotional study is crucial here. The preacher must stand back and take note as he admires the golden dimensions of the Holy Ark of the Covenant. What does he see in his mind’s eye? He must imagine the fearfulness of the Israelites and the quaking ground as Pharaoh’s army charges toward them in pursuit. Are the rocks trembling? Is dust rising? He must hear the stomachs of the hungry crowd in the feeding of the five thousand. Are they rumbling? He must envision the blackened clouds of darkness and discern their stern breezes casing the scene at Golgotha. He must be jostled by the excited reaction and wetted by the tears of joy from a poor woman in search of the body of her Lord as she becomes aware that He stands before her in risen glory. And the preacher sees these things because he is in an intimate, loving relationship with the Word. He now preaches because he loves to tell others the whole story of his joy in the relationship.

Making the effort to do the work necessary for such preaching takes time but will reap great rewards. Again, Edwards offers:

“Developing an interesting oral style takes years, but each of the techniques has to be practiced every time a talk is put together. Practicing them this time will at least make this homily better than it would have been otherwise.”[3]

And notice Edwards’ emphasis:

“For long term improvement, though, attention must be paid to those who use language well. Reading poetry is one way to improve a prose style. Listening to people who speak well and analyzing what contributes to their effectiveness helps. A little judicious borrowing can even be excused. While some people have a natural ear for speech and thus a native eloquence, few ever become effective speakers without study and working at the task.”[4]

However, a lacking in this vision has already been shown to have serious implications for the spiritual health and welfare of both the preacher and the church, most particularly in that tragically, some preachers have confided that sermon preparation time is a burden. Even worse, the parishioners seem to see that small portion of the worship as a “boring” oration to be restrained by time and ultimately endured (just like they did during certain classes in high school or college) rather than as beautiful time with God to be enjoyed and eagerly anticipated all week. Hays continues regarding Kernan:

“His teaching method, as I remember it, was simply to engage in reflective close readings… delineating their rich texture of image and metaphor and opening up their complex themes – moral, philosophical, and religious. Often, Kernan would devote a significant part of his lecture time to reading the text aloud, not in a highly dramatic manner, but with sensitivity to the texts’ rhythms and semantic nuances. I would often sit in class thinking, ‘Oh, I hadn’t heard that in the text before.’ And I would leave the class pondering the problems that Shakespeare addressed: love, betrayal, fidelity, sacrifice, death, and hope.”[5]

Quite simply, Kernan was in love with and devoted to the texts of Shakespeare. When he wasn’t teaching Shakespeare, he was reading Shakespeare and enjoying it for himself, and this shaped his telling of the story. Similarly, it follows that a preacher will be enabled to zestfully expound a text with which he has already fallen in love. He loves it because it is Christ. The task of preaching encourages and displays the love affair with His Word before the world.

[1] O.C. Edwards, Jr., Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach (Collegeville: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1982), 102.
[2] Richard Lischer, ed., The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 273.
[3] O.C. Edwards, Jr., 102.
[4] Ibid., 102-3.
[5] Ibid., 273.

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