I’ve been asked a few times in my life why I care so much about preaching. After all, it’s just a person standing in front of someone saying words. Fundamentally, a preacher looks like an auctioneer or Bingo director. But in reality, I think it’s so much more.
Right now, I’m trying to dream up a way to re-present what preaching is to the college students I live around. I think that for so long preaching has gotten associated with protecting the status quo. To preach, has become synonymous with other forms of speeches. But this was never what it was intended to be. I think of the people who have handed down this tradition through the years. From the first martyr’s to Dr. King, there are men and women who have fought to tell God’s story in the midst of their own, and it often cost them their lives.
Rob Bell once said, “Do you think that people, after Dr. King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech, walked away saying, ‘did you like it?’ No. Dr. King had foretold the way the world could one day be, and now nothing would ever be the same again.”
This is what it means to preach.
And sometimes it means that you work at a church that can see it too, and other times it means there is a bullet out there with your name on it. But, and here’s the part that gets me, they can’t kill your sermon. It actually just makes it more powerful.
To preach is to stand up and say, “Thus Saith the Lord” and all the good and ills that come along with that.
So I spent this past weekend on an annual retreat that I go on with a dozen other young preacher friends. We get some wiser, older people to come speak into our lives, and we spend the rest of the time just hanging out together. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. It blesses me on so many levels, because nobody else knows what this life is like except for other preachers. There is something mysteriously beautiful and exhausting about doing this calling. Nobody else know the hits that we take. How hard it is to say what you feel needs to be said to people that you love, or how easy it is to take other people’s pain on yourself because you care about them.
On one of the days, we all went to see Larry James at the Central Dallas Ministries. Larry is a former preacher, and a former member of a group a lot like this one. So he knows what our lives look like, and what kind of challenges we face, and this is what he told us:
“Preachers are the most powerful people in the world.” Not because of their pay, or because of their charisma, but because of their calling. Larry explained, that most of the people who are in board meetings, making decisions on Monday, are in our churches on Sunday’s. The people who are leading our institutions (at least in the South) are listening to us mediate a word from the Lord the day before.
They are hearing us tell the story of God in a way that might just shape the decisions that affect the broader community. This is a great responsibility, and it’s one that we have to steward well. Because it would be easier to just preach sermons that make people like me, the LORD knows that’s my bent, but it’s not my calling. I might have an easier, or even a longer life, but Dr. King didn’t have just a homily, he had a dream.
And maybe this is why young preachers are getting harder and harder to come by. Because if they don’t see a person modeling for them what it looks like to be loving people while speaking profound truths they might not understand what preaching really is. And what it really can do.
Yesterday I taught on Ananias and Sapphirra, it’s one of the hardest stories in the New Testament to preach on. If you wanna get people fired up talk about the resurrection, if you wanna give them hope talk about Jesus with the woman at the Well. If you wanna get fired, preach a series on Ananias and Sapphirra. It’s a story about God striking people dead because they had turned money into a functional god.
But yesterday, I heard that a guy I knew had lost his brother over the week. Now he was really needing to get back to Maryland for the funeral, and money was tight, so it probably wasn’t going to be possible for him to go home. But then the church jumped into the story, and in less than an hour, they raised 5 times the amount needed to send this guy home to be with his family.
One man, after the sermon, said that he was in town selling circus tickets (as if we all haven’t done that before), and God put it on his heart to tithe circus tickets. So he gave our church about $500 in free circus admission. Now I’ve had a lot of different responses to sermons, but that is a first for me.
But it’s also an indication of what preaching can do. Preaching is a thousand different things, it’s poetry, and prophetic, it’s imagining and vision casting, it’s dreaming and showing. But ultimately, it’s about re-telling the story of God, and reminding us just what that means for today, here and now.
Because somebody might need help buying some plane tickets, and someone else might need tickets to the circus.
And that’s why I Preach.