Monday, August 03, 2009

Reviving the art of preaching, essay at Episcopal Cafe

my most recent Daily Episcopalian essay also posted at Episcopal Cafe over the weekend

Reviving the art of preaching

by Peter M. Carey

“Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.”
~attributed to St. Francis

“A preacher should preach holding the Holy Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
~attributed to Karl Barth

As a kid, there were two things that most intimidated me about what priests did, what they did at the altar, and what they did in the pulpit. Growing up before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, I remember well the “high church leaning” congregations of my youth and the reverence, mystery, hand motions way up there at the altar – often with the priest facing away from the congregation. As I grew older, I served as an acolyte, so I saw some of this up close, but the sacredness of it remained for me (and still remains today, thankfully!)

The preaching task seemed nearly as mysterious and puzzling. I wondered how the priests would be able to come up with something to say each week, some anecdote to connect the readings with the life of the people in the pews, some example or metaphor to connect the Holy Scriptures with the pastoral needs of the congregation. How did they do it every week?

In seminary, and before seminary, I heard the two quotes listed above quite often. I doubt whether St. Francis or Karl Barth actually said them. We have no way to know about the St. Francis quote, and at least two Barth scholars assure me that even if Barth said that second quote, it doesn’t seem to be consistent with his theology and practice of preaching. In any event, it seems that these two quotes are quite helpful for the practicing Christian.

The first quote, of course, points out that the Christian Life is more than just words; that we need to live out our faith, to “walk the talk” so to speak. However, there are times, of course, to use words. It is NOT merely ok to live well; it IS our calling to share the hope and Faith that we have in Christ Jesus. The fact is that people will see what we do, but they will also hear what we say. I read today that the Episcopal Church has cut its entire Evangelism budget, and without getting into a debate about why this line item was vetoed, I began to think about the need for grass roots Evangelism. To share our Faith with others, we need to live ethically, and we also need to speak with passion about the tenets of our Faith, to speak about God’s work in our lives. In essence, I believe, we need to recapture the ministry of preaching, and not solely for the seminary-trained clergy among us.

As our beloved Episcopal Church declines nationally in numbers, it will be essential for those of us who even have a bit of a spark of interest in preaching to PREACH IT! This means we need to “preach the Gospel at all times,” and it means we need to “use words.” It also means we need to hold our iPhone iBible application in one hand and our Kindle New York Times in the other hand as we connect our Faith with the life of the world and the lives of everyday folks.

Now that the focus of the Episcopal Church (and the Café) can turn away from General Convention, perhaps we can take on the challenge of preaching, teaching, practicing, and living our Faith, and having the courage to share it with a world in need. PREACH IT!

Read it HERE at The Episcopal Cafe

Daily Episcopalian essay also posted at Episcopal Cafe over the weekend

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