I’m thankful that I serve on a pastoral team for many reasons, among them that I don’t have to preach every week.
It allows me more time to think and to rest as I prepare for the next sermon. Even so, I get tired of the sound of my own voice in the pulpit. Everything starts to sound alike. Is there nothing new I can say? I’m completely out of stories and examples. Won’t someone please trade places with me, so I can listen?
When I get this way, wise people in my life will usually tell me that I’ve lost some perspective, and remind me that a worship service includes a sermon, but also many other things through which holy conversation takes place. There’s plenty of opportunity for me to listen, and listening is what will ultimately feed and enrich my preaching.
Recently, my husband and I preached together for Christ the King Sunday. We reflected on the Gospel reading (the Crucifixion story according to Luke) in light of a phrase in the second reading from Colossians: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God.” Where do we see God most clearly? We see God in the body of Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross.
Perhaps it was the subject matter, or because I was preaching in dialogue with someone else, but I found myself during that worship service both watching and listening more than usual. During Communion distribution, the musician began a wonderful exploration of the Alleluia verse, a musical piece that the community sings in preparation to hear the Gospel reading. It quotes Peter’s confession of faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The musician, a gifted jazz player, can take one theme and develop it for hours. So, as he played, the few words of that simple piece began mixing with my own spoken words. “To whom shall we go?” “The body of Christ.” “The words of eternal life.” “Given for you.”
The juxtaposition of Word and Sacrament brought me to tears as I remembered again the words from the second reading: “Christ is the image of the invisible God.” Where do we see God clearly? We do see God in the Body of Christ, hanging on the cross. We also see God in the Body of Christ, together with hands outstretched, receiving forgiveness and life. We see God in the Body of Christ, suffering together for justice, working together to create peace. We see God in the Body of Christ, listening together for the sound of the Word made flesh.
Preaching is an event, a public declaration. It is also discourse, often in conversation with whispers or song, which calls us to listen and to observe. It provides the chance to see God and the world through forgiven eyes.