One of the problem areas I have begun to notice when critiquing my own preaching is my tendency to add theologically dense passages, a practice which I am convinced is never helpful and ever-tempting. From just this past week, part of my conclusion:
This is the work that Christ has done. By the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Virgin Mary, at his birth God the Son was united not just with humanity, but with the entire creation. In his death, Jesus showed he would die for love of a dying creation. In his resurrection, he showed he will resurrect and redeem all of creation, completing that task when he returns in glory, but beginning that task in us now.
On a given Sunday morning, I have been working hard for twenty-plus minutes to help a whole congregation to gel as one and to focus in on something important the Lord is saying to us, and then right at the climax, I shout, “Look over there!”
Why do I do it?
First, I am inexperienced. I’ll make sure to put that out there. Second, I like theology. Third, I like words.
Something more important is happening, though: I have failed to recognize that the sermon as we generally define it—that period of exegeting Scripture, comforting and challenging a congregation—is only one part of the proclamation of the Gospel which happens in Christian worship. The sermon is only one piece of the Sunday liturgy, which is only one day in a liturgical year, which is only one year in the life of a Christian, which is only one life in the communion of saints.
I am small, and that is a good thing. Those twinned truths are the beginning of worship, and as such they need to form my sermon each week. My sermon is small, and that is a good thing. I don’t need to say or do everything. I need to do one part. I need to say one thing. And I need to let everyone and everything else perform their parts.
Very practically on a Sunday morning, our prayers are part of the proclamation, and so is our singing, our offering, our gathered prayer, and so is the Creed, and so is our confession and absolution, and so is our gathering at the Table. The challenge is this: can I let those things bear the load of the proclamation, so that my small part we call “sermon” can be comfortable just being its small but important self?