Preaching is slowly becoming this dreary thing that I can’t help but thinking of it as an empty routine. I enjoy formulating arguments, doing research and thinking about theology a lot. I enjoy reading and thinking and asking questions and then asking them out loud again in front of a bunch of people and gauging their reactions. What I don’t enjoy is repetitiveness. Even if I think repetitiveness is right and good and needed for a bunch of undisciplined folks like ourselves, I can’t help but continually get frustrated. I don’t like doing something over and over again if it doesn’t seem to be doing anything or being effective.
I know I’m in a rut right now for a few reasons. Last month I said to someone ‘I should just send out my sermon to everyone by e-mail ahead of time, so everyone can read it over and be more prepared on Sunday.’ This week I asked, somewhat sarcastically if I could jut read a chapter out of a book instead of preaching a sermon. The last few months I find myself reading my sermon verbatim rather than using my notes to set me off into the directions that I want to go. For whatever reason, I have lost my love for the sermon in the service.
I think I am more academically minded than most. I tend to look at the sermon as a time to transfer ideas from my head to everyone else’s. Writing sermons for me have become kind of a academic outlet for me as I tend to spend more time reading the material than I do writing any of my own. Lately I’ve just resorted to grasping concepts out of books and mashing them together in what I consider to be artful mess of brilliance that I think other people just have to hear. To some, this is unacceptable. This is a cop-out of what preaching should be, it’s lazy and it shows no heart. But for me, it’s sharing with people the brilliance of some of the greatest thinkers in the world. Why would I presume I can formulate these ideas better than they can? Why not just share their thoughts and then go from there?
Then I go to an Anglican church, and the sermon is a five minute devotional and the the rest of the service moves right along with the climax being the Eucharist instead of the sermon. Part of me is jealous of this. Why in the world is the teacher and what he is saying at the climax of an Evangelical service? God knows we are making it up half the time and just trying to fill in space because we just have never done it any other way. It makes sense for the sermon to be a throw-in, an afterthought, something just to bring it down to earth for a few minutes to remind people that there is some practicality and real life relevance to the Sunday routine. But really, the reason we are there is to gather around the Lord’s table right? Why in the world does the evangelical church put so much emphasis on the sermon then?
Evangelicals might say it’s because we need to create a sacred space for people to ponder and reflect. It’s one of the reasons why we do Q&A in the middle of our sermons. But really, listening to someone talk for 25 minutes and then other people who are just hearing this stuff for the first time reflect out loud about it isn’t really the greatest environment for introspective analysis. Some of us are emotional beings and we love the pick up we get from hearing a motivational sermon and we leave re-charged. Nothing against that I guess, but is that really the point either? Is it really just for a spiritual fill up? A weekly edification? I wonder how much ‘preaching’ went on in early churches? Was it 45 minute sermons and arguments trying to convince everyone of a new truth of the gospel and that they really should do everything that Jesus said to do with funky illustrations and pictures and Powerpoints? Was it just reading scriptures out loud and then silence for a time to reflect? Was it the main place for all teaching of the scriptures?
The right answer of course is that we preach to proclaim the gospel. We preach so that the Word goes forth and challenges and shapes and forms God’s people. The Word goes forth through God’s people to form God’s people. So I know it’s right at some point. I know this is the way of God’s people and the way it should be done to a degree. Just lately it doesn’t feel right. It’s like there is something missing or better, we are doing too much. Something that just isn’t blatantly obvious in the way we gather. So in the meantime I’ll keep it up and just wait patiently until more understanding is revealed to me about what in the world is going on with the Sermon.