I’ve spent hours this week listening to sermons.
This may not seem notable to all of you who have to suffer through that experience every single week, but let me remind you that it is a rare week I have to sit through even one sermon.
Usually, as you know, I am giving the sermon.
This week I’ve been in intensive Doctor of Ministry study in a class at Wesley Theological Seminary called Words and The Word: Theology and Rhetoric of Preaching. We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the authority of the preacher and the role of the sermon, and we’ve heard 4 sermons every day.
Four. Sermons. Every. Day.
My husband Mark said he felt so sorry for me (I think I heard him mutter something about his idea of hell under his breath, but I’m not totally sure).
I can’t imagine what he’s talking about.
It has been invigorating to see each preacher step up to the front and tackle the task we’d all like to think we do reasonably well. I’m learning a lot about how we as preachers see ourselves and about how much we can hear from others about our preaching.
One thing I am finding fascinating is the litany of preaching heroes I’ve heard this week . . . their names are whispered with quiet reverence: Will Willimon, Tom Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Craddock, Gardner Taylor . . . and all week it has struck me as funny that even preachers, we of the spotlight hogging, microphone coveting, pulpit residing . . . we need heroes, too. We need people who can shake us awake during the Sunday 11:00 a.m. national nap time, take the good news and weave it into a beautiful quilt we just want to wrap tight around us and never let go.
Even if we don’t sound like Barbara Brown Taylor every week . . . even if no one would recognize Gardner Taylor’s influence in our words for the day . . . even if Will Willimon would say we weren’t confrontational enough . . . I think the best thing I’ve learned this week is that I need a hero.
I need a few folks who do what I do and do it well. I need some folks to whom I can look for reassurance that the preaching task is not impossible; that a word from God can come inspired by us . . . or in spite of us.
So as I listen to sermons for most of every day this week I’ve finally realized that part of what I am doing is looking for a hero. I am looking for someone who does the work of proclaiming the good news and does it well, week in and week out. And I’m looking because I need encouragement to keep fumbling through my own attempts to get the message across.
And, more than that, I need to hear the good news, too.
I’m starting to think, after hearing this same yearning from my colleagues, that there might be something to the idea of preacher cards (baseball cards, you know?). We have to have some way, I’m thinking, to cheer each other on, to remember that the week in and week out proclamation of a word from God, whether you do it well or you just do it, is worth every excruciating step.
While I listen I’ll try to learn how to do this preaching task well, or at least well enough that the message gets across. And in the meantime I think I’ll keep listening to all the others struggling to do the same. If I do that, I think I’ll look around and realize I am surrounded by heroes.