The job of a pastor entails many things. There is visiting the sick and shut-in. Designing and implementing programs that are essential to the spiritual development of the congregation. However, one of the greatest task that a pastor of a local congregation faces is the writing of and delivering of sermons. It comes around every week for this preacher, and I must admit that at times it seems as if comes around about every other day. I blink and the week is gone and I have a sermon to deliver in the next 24 hours. Don’t get me wrong I do have a system that I use to prepare sermons. I am a Revised Common Lectionary preacher about 90% of the time. I have but on a very few occasions not found something in the Lectionary that did not speak to me. Having said this I think there is an emphasis or a type of preaching that has been missing in my sermon deliverance.
What is a sermon? Again, turning to my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary we find this definition, “a religious discourse delivered in public usually by a clergyperson. as part of a worship service.” A sermon is a discourse. Well, what is a discourse? Again, Webster helps us by defining discourse, “the verbal interchange of thoughts and ideas usually in a formal, orderly and mannerly way.” We get the idea. Make no mistake preaching is important, and we need to understand it more fully as preacher’s and parishioners so that we might become better preparers and listeners of sermons.
I have fallen short when it comes to prophetic preaching. I have failed as a preacher many times to preach against the principalities and powers of darkness that are intrenched into our society and culture. Prophetic preaching calls these powers to task. I have not spoken up as I should for the least, the last and the lost. I have ached in my heart about an issue while thinking in my head I can’t say that my people won’t agree. They may get mad, quit or worse write a letter to the bishop. The Holy Spirit says, “but you know what God’s Word says. ” Then I say, “yes but I’m afraid.”
Prophetic preaching can be scary. Just ask Amos. We know very little of him other than he was a herdsman and a trimmer of Sycamore Trees. Amos is called to preach exile from the promise land. He tells the people, exile is coming. This is not a popular message during anytime much less a good time. Its in the fifth chapter that we read Amos’ memorable words,“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness a never-ending stream.” (Amos 5:24).
Bad news in good times is not what most folk want to hear, and they did not want to hear it in Amos’ time. Yet, that did not cause Amos to shrink from his calling. We preachers must stand behind the pulpit and speak prophetically even when things are going well in the nation. We need to stand up and say, “Thus saith the Lord.” The message that we preach will not always be what our people want to hear. We may even have some people who because of their status in the congregation that feel like they can dictate to the preacher what is said. However, this does not remove the responsibility to speak openly nad honestly about issues that many of our congregations are uncomfortable.
Yesterday, I read a little bit of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter’s from a Birmingham Jail. The greatest fear that he had was that the good people would be more comfortable just not saying anything rather than saying segregation was sinful. This is a great fear to have because history shows us that it is when the good people sit back and never open their mouths that injustice reigns. The move for equality in America for Africa-Americans began in the churches and was sounded from the pulpits of most African-American churches. Sad to say and to the detriment of the movement for racial equality a small minority of white pulpits called for equality.
I must reclaim the long heritage of prophetic preaching that has been sounded by those before me. We are living in times when much is being preached from the pulpit’s in America. Some, I would say does not pass for preaching. Calling for the genocide of gays and lesbians from the pulpit is not preaching. It is a travesty that the sacred desk would be used by some to preach hate. The heart of all preaching is the command to love the Lord and your neighbor. May we preach in God’s love.