There are times when I feel that too much weight is placed upon the preaching moment. We are wrong to think that twenty-five minutes a week, no matter how well done, is sufficient to lead a group of people toward spiritual maturity. Classes and individual conversations can be so much more powerful and long-lasting. At the same time, I believe that there is something that happens when the Word is proclaimed that gives every Sunday the possibility of being “that time the Spirit spoke to me.” That inherent power makes the preaching moment important.
Those that have heard me speak at all will recognize that I end each sermon with a variation of the priestly blessing from Numbers 6. (May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, and may he give you peace.) The priestly blessing was given to Aaron and his sons to speak over the people during religious moments as a blessing from God. The priests in Israel served a specific purpose, they were mediators between God and humanity. They helped to create a space where the voice of God could be spoken to the community and where the community could come face to face with God. They were in some ways mediators of the covenant.
With the coming of Jesus, this role of a mediator is changed; every individual person now has access to God. However, while the preacher does not serve as a mediator for the people, the preacher still fills an important role. The preacher is tasked with spending time in scripture each week with the specific responsibility of hearing a Word from the Lord for a particular community, and then proclaiming that Word on Sunday. As I spend time studying and meditating during the week, I am specifically asking the question, what does this text speak to the congregation I serve? I then form my thoughts around the answer to that question. This creates a special role for the local preacher. The guest speaker speaks a universal word from the Lord, but the local preacher is weekly taking the congregation before the Father and asking, what Word do you have for this community this week. Because of this, the preacher serves almost as a priest, offering a Word of the Lord to the people. When I speak each week, I take that responsibility seriously because the preacher represents God in this moment, providing a word from the Lord. I thus find it fitting to end with the priestly blessing; asking for God’s gracious blessing to be with the community.
The question must still be asked, however, why preach? Why spend the time trying to discover a word from the Lord, and presenting that word to a group of people who more often than not have not thought about the particular scripture being presented that morning prior to it being read before the sermon? Why Preach? Because the sermon moment offers an opportunity for the community to be challenged to reimagine the world they live in.
Sermons live in the world of the ideal. Sermons present a picture of what the ideal world that God imagines could be. Sermons are filled with lofty goals, and paradise moments. They are snapshots of the perfect world God created, and the perfect world that hopefully God will one day create anew. The problem is, the congregation doesn’t live in the world of ideals. We, as humans, live in a world that is not ideal. We struggle with completing assignments at work. We wonder why our children are always fighting with us. We are dealing with the difficulty of those first few years of marriage, or the difficulty of trying to learn to love our spouse again after all of the children have moved away. We, as a congregation, don’t live in the world of the ideal, and so often it would be nice to simply hear a practical word of advice of how to love my spouse better or how to raise my children. It seems that so often it would be more helpful to offer self-help classes than to spend time in the ideal world of a sermon.
However, that’s why a sermon is so important. A sermon offers a glimpse of what the world could be. A sermon presents the ideal world that God imagines in scripture and invites us to live within this ideal world. A sermon offers hope that the mundane world around us is not the ultimate reality, but there is instead more to life. And a sermon presents a choice. Will we live within the world imagined in scripture or will we settle for some world that is less than ideal? Will we strive, no matter how hard it is, to embrace the teachings of Jesus and live new creation life now, or will we continue our mundane lives that we’ve accepted as reality? A sermon offers a way out; a better, truer reality.
So why preach? Because I’ve been tasked with the responsibility by the congregation I’ve grown to love to spend time each week seeking a Word from the Lord and then presenting that Word each Sunday in the hopes that it might challenge us all to live in the reality of the world imagine in scripture instead of the false reality we spend so much time in. That is a serious calling, and it makes the preaching moment a holy moment between congregation, preacher, and God.