Preaching and Magnetism

November 23, 2010
I’ve been at a conference for the past five days. It was a combined meeting of the Academy of Homiletics and the Society of Biblical Literature held in Atlanta. I’m suffering from meeting withdrawal. I miss wearing my name badge and walking back and forth across the skybridge between hotels 30 times a day in almost comfortable shoes. I miss the comforting sound of the elevators rumbling up and down the 27 floors at 2 am.
The theme of our Academy of Homiletics meeting was The Call to Preach.
The first night I moderated a panel of four eminent teachers and preachers, called “An Evening with the Elders, Exploring the Call to Preach and Teach.” The panel consisted of the following:
Joan Delaplane is a member of the Dominican Sisters, and Professor Emerita of Preaching at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Mo. She spoke of the persistent call that came to her as no respecter of ecclesial boundaries. Joan spoke of the call to preach coming to us as a call to persevere in an imperfect church.

David G. Buttrick is Drucillia Moore Buffington Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics Emeritus at the Divinity school of Vanderbilt University and the author of numerous influential books on preaching. He recounted how he was hounded by mentors and family members to see that God was continually notifying him to answer a call that he didn’t want to answer. He questioned the notion of preaching as a “higher calling”, seeking to set the call to preach is on par with other callings, not above it.

Henry Mitchell is Professor Emeritus at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and the author of several influential books on the contribution of African American preaching to the field of homiletics. He witnessed to the fact that the call is no respecter of the boundaries between conscious and subconscious mind. He recounted how he was working a job as a laborer with lots of time to “free associate” in his thoughts. He said he found his free association shaped into images of himself preaching and teaching, something he had never wanted to do.

Christine King Farris, sister of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the author of several books on his legacy, is Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Learning Resource Center at Spelman College in Atlanta. She spoke of the feeling of being in the right place at the right time whenever she entered a classroom and of the impact her teaching has had on individual young people.

The call to preach, according to these eminently wise souls, is a call that is no respecter of ecclesial and personal boundaries. It is a call that does not set itself above the callings of others in Christ’s body to use their spiritual gifts. It is a call that comes from without in the nudging of others and that comes from within as a sense of rightness as we use our gifts. It is a call to persist in the face of opposition and lack of hearing.

The morning after our inspiring panel, I stood in the elevator waiting to descend to lobby level. An elderly man got on wearing a namebadge from another organization meeting at the same time in the hotel conference center.

“What meeting are you here for?” I asked.
“Magnetism” he said.
“Magnetism?” I repeated.
“Yes,” he said impatiently. “Don’t you know what magnetism is?”

Of course I know what magnetism is. I just never imagined there was a worldwide conference of people who get together annually to talk about it. Of course, maybe to them a meeting of people who teach preaching is odd. Maybe we should have had a session together. These days preaching could use some magnetism

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