Not preaching this week for a change, I have the leisure to thumb through any book that happens to be at hand. This morning I happened on Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life, and found this:
“While preaching and celebrating sacraments are discrete tasks, the two particular functions to which I was ordained, they are also metaphors for the whole church’s understanding of life and faith. For me, to preach is first of all to immerse myself in the word of God, to look inside every sentence and underneath every phrase for the layers of meaning that have accumulated there over the centuries. It is to examine my own life and the life of the congregation with the same care, hunting the connections between the word of the page and the word at work in the world. It is to find my own words for bringing those connections to life, so that others can experience them for themselves. When that happens—when the act of preaching becomes of source of revelation for me as well as for those who listen to me—then the good news every sermon proclaims it that the God who acted is the God who acts, and that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world.
“Understood in this way, preaching becomes something that the whole community participates in, not only through their response to a particular sermon but also through identifying with the preacher. As they listen week after week, they are invited to see the world the way the preacher does—as the realm of God’s activity—and to make connections between their Christian faith and their lives the same way they hear them made from the pulpit. If the preaching they hear is effective, it will not hand them sacks of wisdom and advice to take home and consume during the week, but invite them into the field to harvest those fruits for themselves, until they become preachers in their own right. Preaching is not something an ordained minister does for fifteen minutes on Sundays, but what the whole congregation does all week long; it is a way of approaching the world, and of gleaning God’s presence there.
“Likewise, the sacraments of the church embody a broad Christian understanding of life on earth: chiefly, that the most ordinary things in the world are signs of grace. The God who created them and called them good keeps on doing so. Through the sacraments, we are invited to understand that all the things of this world are good enough to bear the presence of God and to deepen the relationship between heaven and earth …
“We may spend our whole lives learning what those sacraments mean, but the experience of them exceeds our understanding of them. Reaching out to handle God, it is we who are handled, gently but with powerful effect.” (33-35)
Meaningful words to me, and yet I wonder, is this enough? Or is this only and forever really all we have?
I’ve struggled so much with preaching over the past year. How to touch those who come to church only or mainly to be sweetly comforted, those who long for comfort in the form of a howling lament that gathers their pain into something bigger and harder to turn away from, those who only want confirmation of what they’ve already gleaned from whatever source.
*The photos are of pretty little St. Augustine’s Church (Church of Ireland), which stands next to the city wall of Derry, high above and looking down on Bogside. When the gate swings open and beckons to come in and face “east” toward the altar, leaving behind the “westward” view of that neighborhood with so much painful history, is it a call to know God’s true peace, or a well-disguised temptation?