Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Preaching and the Spirit

More often than not, as I am preaching, I am still thinking. I am still hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and the echoes of scripture in my head speaking to the topic at hand. There are some preaching opportunities when it is appropriate to just go with this, follow the Spirit's leading and diverge from what I had planned to say. However, it is not always appropriate. Let me suggest two reasons. One is very practical. In preparing a worship service, I work with a team of people who have together prayerfully prepared a lot of different pieces . We have planned the musical and liturgical elements to bring the scriptures alive and praise our creator. If I, on a regular basis, just "followed the Spirit's leading" is would have the potential of dishonoring the Spirit led work they had done. Sometimes it is just an issue of time. "Sorry, we won't be hearing that anthem you prepared." Sometimes it is an issue of special elements of worship. We may have a planned response to the word but I so changed the message that it doesn't make sense anymore.

For those who wouldn't want practicality to get in the way of the Holy Spirit, there is another reason. I believe that the Holy Spirit is present in every aspect of sermon preparation. I have a chance to contemplate scripture, read it in the community of my fellow preachers and in the community of theologians both modern and ancient. I get to test where I think the Spirit is leading me against other voices to be sure it is the Spirit and not just my own imagination. In the moment, there is no device to do that. So, while it might feel good to "Just go where the Spirit leads me," there is always the danger that was is leading me in the moment is not the Spirit at all.

Okay, I said two, let me add another. When one stand to preach in front of a congregation, there is a great responsibility. Sometimes, when I am preparing a sermon, I go down a certain line of thinking. Sometimes when I get to a point on the line, I realize it is the wrong line. Sometimes, in reading and reflecting and praying, I realize that it is a dead-end perhaps even one of those dangerous dead-ends that ends with a cliff. If I am leading a small group or sharing thoughts in a Bible study, sometimes those are interesting paths to travel together that we might discover together where the wrong turn was. However, I don't think that works in congregational preaching. "Forget everything I just said, that was wrong. Let's back up." Some may be thrilled my that sort of u-turn but I am afraid it would leave many lost and confused.

This post is a sort of preface to another post I hope to write later. It was going to be part of this one but the preface got to long. Since Sunday, I have been having some additional thoughts on the sermon that may be worth sharing. I will try to post them soon.


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