December 30, 2012

Announcing the Good News

            “Words without end, amen, amen!” is not actually how the Gloria Patri concludes, but ministers this time of year might find this revision apt.  Proclamation is at the heart of Christian ministry, and most pastors have to summon far more words than they feel competent to offer.  Preaching requires both grace and effort; it is a gift and also a craft to be honed with discipline.
            This coming week young people who feel a calling to the vocation of preaching (age 14 to 28) will gather in Atlanta for the 2013 Festival of Young Preachers.  Central will be present to participate as convener (me), recruiter (Debra Sermons), and preacher (Jennifer Harris Dault).  It will be a joy to witness the varied ways preaching expresses and calls to faith.  I expect to be inspired!

A recent Gallup poll on the vocational direction of teenagers revealed:
Our young people want to be doctors, nurses, teachers, and computer techs, almost anything but a preacher.  Clergy did not even make it onto the top 10 . . . rated even lower than lawyers.
            So, in a world of Twitter and Facebook, is preaching an outmoded, socially insignificant form of communication? Is it a necessary way to communicate the story of Jesus—the best news of all?  That approximately 100 young preachers will gather to share their homiletical insights on “The Gospel and the City,” this year’s theme, is an encouraging sign.
            Preaching will continue because incarnational witness is the best way to convey the Gospel.  Jesus was, of course, the most remarkable preacher of all.  He could tell stories that were surprising and memorable—how do you think we have so many of them in the Gospels?
            Telling stories well invites active listening.  As Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, puts it: “Our stories are the best bread we can offer each other.”  Yet, the sermon must never be about us!  We offer a Word that is not of our own origin through the earthen vessels entrusted to us.

            St. Augustine insisted that great sermons should do three things well: teach the mind, touch and heart, and move the will.  He realizes that humans respond cognitively, emotionally and convictionally, thus each of these dimensions must be engaged.  The most compelling preaching arises, in my judgment, from conviction and perceptive analysis.
            Sermons should beckon action.  Spouting information that calls for no response is a fatal flaw.  Through the ”foolishness of preaching, “ God continues to transform the world, and in a few days I will be privileged to witness new human instruments committed to the irreplaceable calling to announce the Good News.

            Molly T. Marshall

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