Monday, July 10, 2006

Poet (part 2 of 3)

This is part two of a three part series that attempts to express my personal theology of preaching. It is adapted from a paper written for a class on preaching for Dr. Ellsworth Kalas at Asbury Theological Seminary. It’s not complete. It’s not exhaustive. It’s simply a reflection of where I am right now.

Poet: The Preacher, Part 2

“All the preacher has is words.” This is Barbara Brown Taylor’s assessment of the tools of this trade. Therefore, we better make the most of what we have.

While what I say is of the utmost importance, it is also my duty to pay careful attention to how I say it. Since all I have is words I must give myself to making them count. As I become a master of words I become a better servant of the Word.

In this sense, my second role as a preacher is to be a Poet. A poet pours his heart and soul into his words, and his words into his heart and soul. I must understand the power of the well-placed word to rouse the spirit and stir the imagination. The right word meeting with the right moment can move the earth.

American history is marked by monuments to this truth. Roosevelt’s fireside chats helped drag us out of depression and carried us through days of war. Martin Luther King’s dreams shook us awake to recognize old hatreds and fresh hopes. Our leaders opened their mouths and as a result, walls have fallen, heads have lifted, and men have even walked on the moon.

The difference, of course, is that for preachers, we are dealing with greater things than space travel and global threats. We are dealing with greater things than even life and death. We are dealing with heaven and hell. And all we have for the task is words.

“No man has a right to say any beautiful or powerful thing till he gets some thoughts beautiful and powerful enough to require it. Only good and great matter makes a good and great style.” With this poignant turn of a phrase Horace Bushnell reminds me that a word in itself is not enough. It requires something else to fill it out, Someone else to lend it strength. Here is where my role as prophet and poet embrace. I must find the fitting words to serve as a channel for God’s Word to the people.

This sacred nature of shaping a sermon demands my best effort. It calls for and deserves the full use of my sanctified creativity, the employing and expanding of every good gift. In a sermon, something very strange is taking place. Heaven and earth are colliding as God’s secrets are being revealed. “With His finger, the Holy Spirit, God touches that hidden point where the human spirit opens to the infinite (Raniero Cantalamessa).” If God is present in this work we do, then we better prepare a fitting welcome.