Disadvantage Us?

Here’s a quote worth pondering, wherever you sit theologically.  It is quoted in a book that is more mainstream and liturgical in orientation than the more evangelical books I tend to quote from.  It is a quote by P.T.Forsyth in reference to the Roman Catholic church.  I’m sure this post could stir response on numerous levels, but the quote is worth considering in reference to our preaching:

The Catholic form of worship will always have a vast advantage over ours so long as people come away from its central act with the sense of something done in the spirit-world, while they leave ours with the sense only of something said to this present world.

In many churches we might beg to differ that something is really said to “this present world” either.  But the point is intriguing.  Are we so connected and “relevant” that there is nothing heavenly, spiritual, special, involved in church? For those of us committed to the centrality of the spoken word in worship, perhaps we need to prayerfully ponder what this might mean for us.

The book, more liturgical in its orientation, points to another conclusion that could be drawn – some seek to separate words and action.  They say, in effect, that the “Eucharist” can do the talking, so don’t bother preaching.  “Some clergy are scared to preach.  They  play up the liturgy as a way of hiding from the people.  A sermon is the best barometer of the spiritual life of the minister.  Some fear that it is too accurate an instrument.”  (Book title and author coming in the next few days…oh the intrigue!)

Words and actions do not fight each other.  They go together in worship.  Whatever label you use, Jesus did give a symbolic act and request that it be done in remembrance of Him.  He also explained it.  With words.  I think it is David Wenham who refers to communion and baptism as enacted parables.  We must follow the instructions of Jesus, and the example too.  He came to preach.  He sent His followers out to preach.  Let’s not hide from preaching behind an excuse of some viable and even biblical “alternative.”  But let us also consider how our preaching might be more than a mere “this world” presentation.  It needs to be that, and so much more besides.

Say It Separate From the Sermon

I was just reading a list of rules for preaching by Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary.  I was intrigued by number 3, which I share here.  My own preaching tends to be in churches where the liturgical calendar is largely ignored, but I know that for many churches the opposite is true.  Either way, here’s Rolf’s thought:

3. You shall not proclaim the season of the church year. What does this mean? Do not use the text as a point of departure for talking about Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, All Saints, Mothers’ Day, Fishing Opener, or the Commemoration of St. NOBODY CARES! Easter and Christmas are okay to mention frequently, but do not trump the biblical text with the liturgical day. Let the rest of the liturgy be the place where the movements of the liturgical season shape the community of faith. I am not against the liturgical year. In fact I fully embrace it. But preach the text! If the preacher constantly refers to the liturgical season, the season becomes the de facto text for the sermon. That is not biblical preaching.

As well as the specific point about preaching the text rather than using it to get to the liturgical calendar, I like an implied point here.  There are other elements in a service that can be used for certain things.  The choice of songs, the introdauction to songs, prayers, other elements in the service.  Let’s not think that anything that could or should be said on Sunday has to be said in the sermon.  We can use the rest of the service for the rest of the agenda, but let’s keep the message time for the message of the text.