I’m currently reading At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon for the first time and am loving the experience. The novel is charming, the town idyllic, and the character of Father Tim lovable. I have found, as I often do with stories that invite my attention, that there are nuggets of truth within the casing of whimsical story. I stumbled upon one such truth today: “There are race horses and there are plow horses, and the pulpit can make good use of both kinds.”
Father Tim goes on to state that he is a plow horse. He goes down one row and up the next as he methodically, tirelessly, ceaselessly researches for his sermon. The art of sermon crafting for Fr. Tim is the work that goes into it before pen ever touches paper.
There are others…not naming any names here…ahem…who perhaps do not spend a significant amount of time in research or study for Sunday’s proclamation. This does not mean that their sermons are any less rich or robust–at least I should hope not! Rather, it suggests that race horses are wired differently and do their own mental marathon before quickly getting it on paper.
As someone who tends to like things to be very black and white (read: OCD), I used to think that one was better than the other. I have been on a journey, though, for the past through years and reading Fr. Tim’s words reiterated my new(ish) found understanding: both race horses and plow horses are essential to sermons in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Perhaps my journey has been more of a forced march as I approach the 2 year mark of my PhD program. As a race horse in preaching, the program has forced me to become a plow horse academically. Honestly, I am not always good at keeping my head down. I get easily distracted by various and sundry things and have to force myself to keep moving forward, even if I’m cutting a bit of an angle.
I’m still a race horse when it comes to preaching. That is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. And that’s ok. This point might seem a bit meaningless, but for me it is a message of great importance: I want you to know that it is entirely acceptable, pleasing, and good that you are a plow horse. Or a race horse. Preacher, don’t ty and be someone you’re not. God has created you and wired you a certain way and it’s important to never lose sight of that reality.
Should race horses learn to plow and vice versa? Sure! But is one better or more effective than the other? Absolutely not! As you’re preparing your sermons this week, or next, or in a decade: Go and race. Go and plow. The goal is always the same; the goal is to step back and let God speak; to preach in the name of and to the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the goal is to call God’s people to holy living and holy worship; the goal has nothing to do with you. Isn’t it beautiful?