In a sense it is inevitable that the preacher will be focused on – the preacher is the one taking the risks inherent in putting your head over the parapet, standing there for half an hour and baring both your understanding and your life. We shouldn’t wonder when people use us for target practice or to roast over Sunday dinner.
However I do get nervous when the preacher either courts or seems to settle into being the centre of attention. Our flesh will naturally thrive on any pride-fodder. That could be the “visiting man of God” mentality that pervades some cultures and is offered to the preacher, or the “specially called” mentality that seems to ooze from some preachers.
The reality is that it is not the preacher’s masterpiece based on a text that should be the focus, nor the preacher as a masterpiece of God’s handiwork (although the extent of God’s work in a life usually does show). The preacher and the sermon function as representatives, not as figures of interest in their own right. I’d like to chase that idea a bit for a few days.
Let’s start with the sermon itself. As I’ve written before, a sermon shouldn’t just begin with a text, or bounce off a text, or even be based on a text. The sermon should really re-present the text.
Obviously the preacher will bring strengths of explanation and presentation, and the profile of the listeners should shape the targeting of that text. Nevertheless, the preacher’s task is not just to say what the text says, but also to do what the text does.
The text isn’t a mere repository of information or sermonic illustration, it is a fully inspired section of God’s Word. So the preacher should be so gripped by it that there is a yearning to bring across that text with its full force.
I can’t imagine the churches Paul wrote to receiving his letter, reading it out and then going on as if nothing had happened. I’m sure those writings stirred response. How sad that so often sermons based on those texts have somehow failed to represent them adequately. How sad to see people walking out of a church apparently untouched by the text presented, viewing the sermon as a required duty of church practice (and quiet listening as a required duty of good Christians).
As we preach a Bible text, let’s keep in mind that the sermon event – both the message and the preacher, are representing that passage to these people.