Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Voice that Tells the Truth

A couple of years ago Rolling Stone magazine published their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. There is much to quibble about with their list, not the least of which is the exclusion of Linda Ronstadt, who clearly should be in the top 10—if not the top 3—but my opinion on that has nothing to do with preaching…clearly.

Their top 10 (remember, this is Rolling Stone) includes some amazing voices:

#10 James Brown
#9 Stevie Wonder
#8 Otis Redding
#7 (I’ll get to that one in a minute)
#6 Marvin Gaye
#5 John Lennon
#4 Sam Cooke
#3 Elvis Presley
#2 Ray Charles
#1 Aretha Franklin

Those are all great singers; they have fine voices and it is a pleasure to listen to them.

So what about #7? It’s Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan, according to Rolling Stone, is the seventh greatest singer of all time. The problem with that, of course, is that Bob Dylan can’t sing and he never could, by which I mean that he does not have a technically sound or physically powerful voice.

I was struck, though, by what Bono (singer for the band U2) said about Dylan’s singing:

When Sam Cooke played Dylan for the young Bobby Womack, Womack said he didn't understand it. Cooke explained that from now on, it's not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It's going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.

A preacher’s voice might or might not be pretty.

A preacher’s voice might or might not be powerful.

But people have to believe that the preacher’s voice is telling the truth because the preacher is trying with all she is and has to tell the truth.

So preach like Dylan….

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lord Spoke

From Annie Dillard, quoting something she had read in Hasidism: “Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg, it was told, never really heard his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, finish a thought because as soon as the latter would say ‘and the Lord spoke,’ Shmelke would begin shouting in wonderment, ‘The Lord spoke, the Lord spoke,’ and continue shouting until he had to be carried from the room” (The Writing Life, p. 35).

Shouldn’t we preachers be similarly overwhelmed over the fact that the Lord spoke?

Shouldn’t we be so overwhelmed that it is hard to move past our state of being overwhelmed and on to a posture of preaching?

Shouldn’t we wonder if we are ready to preach if we are not in the midst of our preparation and our delivery continually overwhelmed to know that the Lord spoke?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Being Careful

Sometimes I wonder if I am too careful in my preaching and I wonder if other preachers wonder the same thing.

The thing is, though, that I really, really, really don’t want to say something in a sermon—an address in which I presume to speak for Almighty God—unless I can be as sure as possible that it is a right and proper thing to say.

When I’m studying a text in preparation for preaching, various ideas and interpretations and possibilities come to me and, once they come to me, I check them out as best I can. As I construct the sermon and make decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out, I ask myself how sure I am that something I am thinking about saying is true and therefore worthy of the sermon.

How do I test its truth?

The first question I ask of it is, “Does it accord with the best understanding of what Scripture says at which I can, through diligent prayer and study, arrive at this moment?”

The second—and I believe even more important—question is, “Does it accord with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ?”

If I can answer “Yes” to both questions, then I’m good to go.

If I have to answer “No” to either question, then I’m stopped in my tracks.

By applying those tests I’ve had to leave out a lot of crowd-pleasing stuff that would have been lots of fun to say.

Still, it seems to me wise to err on the side of caution lest I be found to be misrepresenting God and the Good News of Jesus Christ…

Monday, December 27, 2010


Preaching seems to me to be at its core a presumptuous undertaking—at least if I really believe that preaching is what I claim to believe it is.

If preaching is just making a speech or sharing my opinions or delivering an address or offering an entertainment or getting up in front of people and saying something, then it is not so presumptuous. After all, I have things to say and I have the ability to say them; if I can find a venue in which to get up and say it, then more power to me. Such activity may well be filled with presumption born of ego—I presume that you care about and want to hear what I am saying—but any human being can be possessed of such ego and thus of such presumption.

But preaching is, I claim to believe, much more than speech-making or opinion-sharing or address-delivering or entertainment-offering; preaching is, I claim to believe, the proclaiming of God’s word by a human being—in my case, me—to other human beings.

I claim that in my preaching, then, I am serving as a spokesperson for God Almighty.

How presumptuous is it for me to claim that God wants me to speak for God?

How presumptuous is it for me to claim that God lets me know what I am to say for God?

How presumptuous is it for me to claim that God forgives me for what I say for God?

How presumptuous…

This Preaching Thing

I have been involved in this preaching thing since I was thirteen years old which means that I’ve been at it for almost forty years now.

It strikes me as an awe-inspiring and odd thing on which to spend one’s time and to which to dedicate one’s life.

So, the purpose of this new blog is to provide an avenue through which I can reflect on what this preaching thing means—or at least on what it means to me.

I hope you will--whether you are one who preaches sermons, one who listens to sermons, or one who avoids sermons--participate in the conversation.