Preaching Requires Knowing More than Scripture:
Devotional Thought of the Day:
For though I am no man’s slave, yet I have made myself everyone’s slave, that I might win more men to Christ. To the Jews I was a Jew that I might win the Jews. To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.
1 Corinthians 9:16 (Phillips NT)
Her (the Church) purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ’s message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people.22 To promote such exchange, especially in our days, the Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage. (1)
Back in the days of my youth, a phrase similar to the title of this blog caused a reaction in me. I was at a seminar on preaching, actually 3 sections on preparation and one final one, on the actual delivery.
It was the third section that bothered me at first, and yet now I wish it was taught to every preacher, every pastor, every priest.
It is not enough to know the word of God, to be able to know the background of the passage, to be able to study all the words in the original languages, to know what scholars from every age thought about it. All these studies are good, all are necessary, along with times of devoted prayer.
But what is also needed is what Paul describes, and what Vatican II’s pastors noted. We have to understand ( to use a pastoral term “exegete”) those who are listening. We have to understand who they are, where their fears and anxieties haunt them, where their guilt and share show that God’s law (whether it be natural law or the covenant) is convicting them, or should be.
Think of it this way, preaching is part of the ministry of the word of God. That word of God is a means of grace – a conduit through which the Holy Spirit pours out grace, the mercy, love and peace that God would desire we all know, that affects every aspect of our lives. Those who preach and teach the word of God are expert at connect the conduit to the source.
But have we figured out how to preach what Luther called “real law” and “real gospel” Have we thought and prayed about making sure the conduit is connect to the other side? Do we bother to think of how our people will hear what we preach? Or do we preach God’s law to convict those not there, and the gospel to people whose sin does not afflict them?
This is what Paul is getting at when he describes becoming like those under the law, or recognize his own weakness, or becoming like those who aren’t bound by the Old Testament. He strives to preach Christ in a way they will hear it, so that they may be saved. This includes all who God would have hear of His love, the believer, and those who as of yet do not believe.
This is what Vatican II was advising in the selection, to understand the world so that the revealed truth of Christ can deeply penetrate those who hear it, and so that He can be understood, and so they can know His love and presence and peace.
May those who preach tomorrow, and those who listen, find this connection made, and people realize the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for them, revealed in Christ Jesus. AMEN
(1) Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.