What a dangerous title! I am after all a "preacher." Here it is Lord's Day afternoon and I got home a little while ago. Here sitting on my couch lamenting BAMA's loss (but hey it was a great football game. Florida over Sooners!) reflecting for a brief moment upon what I have done on this day. I gathered with God's People in the Presence of his Majesty. We opened the "book divine" to hear afresh the empowering, liberating and convicting Word of the Lord. In the last three weeks we have explored how Matthew presents Jesus as the "Hinge," both the "End" and the "Beginning." Matthew sees Jesus the Hinge as the Goal of the "Old Testament" Story, he sees Jesus as the "Fulfillment" of the Promises in the Hebrew Bible and he sees the Hinge of Jesus' Identity as the "Son of God" embedded in the Hebrew traditions of old. As we have looked at the opening chapters of Matthew I have been astonished at the wondrous depth and texture to Matthew. It is deep indeed.
As I sat in a moment of reflection I was reminded of Eugene Lowry's bold words: "The problem with preaching is that we have been trained to be answer people ... By the time we get ready to start preparing next Sunday's sermon we already know what we believe and hence when we engage a text we often bring ourselves to the text rather than letting the text come to us ..."
What insight! What Lowry seems to be saying is that we preachers often "come to the text" as if we are in control. We already have an agenda and so often the biblical text is nothing else but a "second" to what we already want to say. In some sense we have kidnapped God's Word! This is heavy duty stuff. Have I done this?
Is there a difference between using a text and preaching a text? I have seen sermons where scripture was certainly used but it was not scripture that was preached. Is this a problem with preachers? I am sure that I have been guilty of this myself and for that I am grateful for the never ending mercy of our Abba.
What can we do to overcome this problem? How can we let the text "come to us?" How can we give up control of the text and let it take the lead (it is after all the living word of God right?).
First I believe we need to embrace the text in all its complexity. The dimensions to Matthew's Gospel is mind numbingly vast. Let the text overwhelm us. Embrace its intertextualities, its echoes of previous parts of the Story, get lost in the text.
Second, as we enter into a conversation with the text cultivate the mindset that we do not know what we are getting into. We do not come to the text with a "topic" but let God's message through that portion of the biblical narrative be used by God's own Spirit to address us and our community. I have found that lectio divina is an essential part of sermon preparation ... here we embrace the text, love the text, we eat the text. And like Ezekiel of old we find that eating God's Word is not without effect.
Third, and this is probably repetition, is surrender. We must sacrifice our ideas to the word. We must be willing to be led, to embrace even mystery for a time as we enter into the text because we do not know where it will take us. Like Israel of old we know where we are going but the direction of each day was determined by a Cloud and not themselves.
There is a difference between the word "ministry" and "preacher." All Christians minister in some capacity. Preaching is one aspect of the ministry of God's kingdom of priests. As preachers, not just ministers, we have to at times deal with the "problem with preachers ..." that is of using God's word rather than preaching it. None of us want to be guilty but we all are. Thus my mid-afternoon reflections are upon this struggle to be a tool to be used by the word rather than being a person in charge who uses God's word as his own tool.
If this makes no sense ... blame it on Bama's loss.