Craft of Preaching

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Field notes from preachers you trust -- Nathan Aaseng, Patricia Tull and others.

The Footwasher’s Hall of Fame

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Bowl & Towel
(Creative Commons Image by Gerry Brague on Flickr)


I hate being wrong.

I really hate being wrong in public.

I really, really hate being the one to prove myself wrong in public. Unfortunately, that is the purpose of this article.

Last month, when listing the many rhetorical and oratorical techniques that do not work as well as a story in driving home a sermon point, I included this: “I do not wax eloquent or recite poetry.” OK, I got carried away. Didn’t really think that one through.

The statement was actually true; I do not recall ever reciting poetry in a sermon. But that wasn’t because I had considered doing so and found the genre wanting in comparison to the effectiveness of a story. I had just never considered doing it.

Contrary to the 19th century when poets were America’s rock stars, few people have much interest in poetry these days. But after further review, I have rediscovered that poetry can tell a story as effectively as prose, or more so.

At the very time my article was being posted, I found myself facing, to my chagrin, a preaching situation that seemed to cry out for a poem. That being the case, I decided, after munching on a most unsatisfying Lenten meal of crow, to give it a shot.

The sermon text was Jesus’ shocking demonstration of servanthood as he washed his disciples’ feet. I had spent all week trying to come to grip with the subject of Halls of Fame. I had mixed feelings about whether they celebrate excellence, which would be Biblical and commendable, or whether they are simply temples of prestige, which would directly contradict Jesus’ message in the foot washing.

I wasn’t able to resolve my conflict. Instead, I felt compelled to write an ode to one of the most radical teachings of Jesus, a thanksgiving tribute for the excellence produced by those who have taken this teaching to heart.

Here’s what I came up with:

The Footwashers’ Hall of Fame

There’s a hall of fame that lies empty,
Where the walls are spotless and clear,
Where no portraits look out on admirers.
Neither glory nor prestige lives here.
Not a word declares deeds of great valor.
No plaques sport a champion’s name.
No headlines will shout of their greatness
In the Footwasher’s Hall of Fame.
The Hall has no glitter or spotlights;
It’s often looked at with contempt.
Being enshrined in this structure
Is not a dream many have dreamt.
But wait in the silence, you’ll feel it;
The hall is not empty at all.
It’s piled to the rafters with mercy and love
From those who have heeded Christ’s call.
These heroes have names and great stories;
Each one could be hailed as a star,
But they never came near for a close-up
So nobody knows who they are.
As for us whom they served with compassion,
Whose spirits were raised by their touch,
Whose pains and burdens were lifted—
Do we see we’ve been given so much?
Do we see who helped God lay the groundwork
For the new life that welcomes us all?
In the dim light that shines through the window,
These small acts no longer seem small.
As I walk through this rundown old building,
I find to my great, lasting shame
That our true heroes stand in the shadows
Of the Footwasher’s Hall of Fame.

OK, I’m not an expert poet. But preaching is about more than expertise. It is about proclaiming effectively. I recant my statement from last month and invite the working preacher to explore yet another means of proclaiming the Word. 

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