The last time we reflected on worship, we talked about the Prayer for Illumination. As you may recall, we pray this prayer as we prepare to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed. Then comes the Sermon/Message. So, what is going on in this part of the worship service? Having worshiped the Lord in song and prayer, we are ready to hear God speak to us through his word, which the sermon attempts to do. This is an amazing reality, when you stop to think about it. We worship a God who speaks to his people. The question is: are we listening? The sermon is a prime time to hear God speak through his ancient word. This points to one of the significant challenges of preaching: How can an ancient text speak to a modern people? As the late Pastor John Stott explains: to build a “bridge” between the ancient and modern world through the preaching of the Word is the goal of the preacher. (See Stott’s book, Between Two Worlds.) But it is a challenging one! As Rev. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. writes, “The weekly assignment to preach the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ is daunting. Maybe half a million preachers got up to preach this past Sunday, and would like us to appreciate the hill they climbed.” (Reading for Preaching, 65) Fair enough. Preaching is a challenging task. But what is the preacher trying to accomplish? As Rev. Plantinga also says, “The preacher’s job is not just to repeat a text, but also to outfit it for the hearing of a congregation. The preacher not only does in other words what the text does. He also says in other words what it says, dressing it up or down, shaping and coloring and amplifying it in such a way that when people hear the preached text they hear God’s word to them.” (p. 3) So, this is a summary of what happens during the preaching of the word. Now we are all invited to listen to the word proclaimed on Sunday morning, so we can get God’s story into our hearts, and live it out the rest of the week. Amen?
The last time we talked about worshiping the Triune God we focused on the Prayers of the People. As I said then, for some churches this prayer occurs after the Sermon. However, we generally take time for these prayers of intercession before the Message. Then we’ll often sing a Song of Preparation before hearing God’s Word proclaimed. Part of this preparation for hearing God’s word usually involves a Prayer for Illumination, which is a prayer asking God to speak to us through his word and for help in listening to the word that is given. As we read in The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive, 2013): “The prayer for illumination explicitly acknowledges the Spirit’s work in this part of worship by requesting God’s Spirit to act through the reading and preaching of Scripture. This prayer may also acknowledge that we all come to Scripture with varying degrees of faith, trust, and knowledge.” (p. 139) We pray this prayer before the Sermon because we believe that God speaks though his word, which the pastor’s message is based on. This is God’s word for us today, and we don’t want to miss it. So, we pray a prayer something like this one based on Psalm 25: “Lord God, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long. Through Christ our Lord. Amen!” How blessed we are to have a God who speaks to us through his word. May God help us to become excellent listeners and doers of the word. Amen?
(The following blog post was originally written for the CRC Network.)
One of my pastoral priorities for this quarter is preaching. Accordingly, I’m reading Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s, Reading for Preaching (Eerdmans, 2013). I attended the “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” seminar that he and Scott Hoezee led a couple of years ago in Colorado. What a formative time! And now, as I read his book, it feels that I’m back in the classroom, soaking it all in.
I appreciate the guidance that Rev. Plantinga gives in his book. His message that reading is important to the preacher comes through loud and clear. Good reading makes you wiser, and improves your communication skills. So I continue to read. And thanks to Rev. Plantinga, I have a stellar reading list.
And his book is a great place to start! One of the things I really appreciate about Rev. Plantinga is that, although a seasoned preacher, he sympathizes with the young growing preacher, like me. I found the following passage particularly comforting:
The weekly assignment to preach the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ is daunting. Maybe half a million English-language preachers got up to preach this past Sunday, and I would like us to appreciate the hill they climbed.
Where else in North American life today do we find a speaking assignment that is comparable? Where else is a man or woman called forward once a week to address a mixed audience of things of final magnificence?
For starters, the address has to change all the time. A politician can take a stump speech to LA or Miami and customize one minute of it for the local context. Else it’s the same speech. Our regular church minister has just the reverse situation: it’s the audience that stays the same week after week and the address that needs to change. (p. 65)
This passage got my attention! It gave me some much needed perspective. I knew preaching was hard! But at least I’m not alone. So fellow preachers, let’s stick together!
And if you’re not a preacher, please know: preaching is hard work. It is one of the most difficult tasks that pastors are called to do. So, please give us the benefit of the doubt. Please encourage us. But most of all, please pray for us and please, please listen to God’s Word proclaimed every Sunday morning with an open heart and mind to receive what is given.
I look forward to growing as a preacher this year, guided by Rev. Plantinga. I look forward to growing this year as a preacher, guided by the Holy Spirit, who wants the gospel of grace to be proclaimed to a world that desperately needs to hear it.