Priest (part 3 of 3)
This is part three 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.
PRIEST: The Preacher, Part 3
“Their lives were of equal force with their words.” -John Wesley
What we say and how we say it meet in who we are. My final role as a preacher is that of Priest. Let me first say that wrapped up in this understanding of preachers as priests is the role of the pastor. We are called to preach to the hearts of people, sharing in their joys and sorrows, nurturing them in their faith, and building real relationships with them. The office of pastor and shepherd is a particular passion of mine. However, I intentionally chose this specific image of priest because of its Old Testament significance. In the Old Testament, the priests were set apart, ‘consecrated’ people. They were the ones who bore the honor and danger of handling the holy things of God. They were charged with living up to the high calling they had received.
As a preacher, I am a priest in the sense that I must live a consecrated life, a life set apart. I recognize the weighty responsibility of my calling. I understand that I live by a higher standard. Yes, I should challenge my people to embrace the highest standard of holiness, but I have to lead the way to those heights. Yes, I need to call them out as a ‘kingdom of priests,’ but I must first become the example.
In my role as a preacher/priest, sermons move beyond what I say and how I say it. They become who I am.
Our sermons drip with authenticity when we begin “by dipping and seasoning all our words and sentences in our hearts before they come to our mouths (George Herbert).” As a consecrated preacher, all of my messages come from God, but they come through me. Before they hit the ears of the hearers, they pass through everything that I am, shaking and shaping all along the way. Truth traveling through personality. This passage is often painful because “the Word is a sword which first strikes and cuts the preacher’s own sinfulness, exposing inconsistency and hypocrisy (Raniero Cantalamessa).” The consuming fire of the Living Word journeys from the page through the heart to the lips, engulfing falsehood and forging authenticity.
What we say and how we say it meet in who we are. The words we say will fall to the ground, empty of power, if our souls do not live up to our preaching. As Dr. Kalas put it, “Words are what we have to give people. Never be apologetic for that. Only be apologetic if your words do not match your life.” After all, how can I expect for my words to transform the lives of others if they have made no difference in my own?
MY PRAYER: To Guard the Anointing
Raniero Cantalamessa issues a difficult critique of the modern day preacher in his book, The Mystery of God’s Word. He says, “There is something missing in us preachers, something concerning the substance, not the externals. We need to rekindle that relationship with Jesus as Lord living in the Spirit, from whom all strength comes.” All of our talents and gifts become our own disgrace if we speak with wise and persuasive words, yet lack the demonstration of the Spirit’s power. I must seek to sharpen my skills and deepen my gifts, but these are secondary to my own walk with Christ. I must guard that relationship above all else.
I believe that my dad’s words will chase me onto every platform and into every pulpit where people let me preach. He told me when I was younger, “There is a vast difference between talent and anointing. Son, guard the anointing.” For many of us preachers, perhaps what is missing is the anointing we once walked in. I imagine that many of us have attempted to preach without it, never even realizing it was gone. My prayer is that God will protect the anointing, and that He will never let me confuse it with talent. My prayer is that I will walk in the grace of his call on my life, drawing from it courage and confidence. I pray that He will shape me into a faithful communicator of the greatest things. I pray that what I say and how I say it will always meet in who I am.