It is early Sunday morning. I try to get to the facility wicked early on the Sundays that I preach. The extra hour(s) of sleep would hypothetically be nice, but there is an adrenaline rush, a weight, even a sort of drive that pushes me out of bed and into my car in the wee hours of the morning on Sundays.
I have been thinking today about the impetus that motivates me toward these early mornings. When I have had the privilege to teach on preaching there are a few phrases I have used to describe weekly sermon preparation. I’ve come to realize: 1) That a sermon isn’t done until you preach it, 2) That preparation only ends when delivery begins, and that these two are true because 3) A biblical sermon is alive.
A thought just occurred to me, as I sat here this early Sunday morning, about preaching and sermon preparation. This thought is what motivates the writing of this blog. The thought is this: a sermon isn’t done until you preach it, because there are three living entities that are present at the preaching of every biblical sermon. These three living entities are:
1) The preacher
2) The listener
3) The Word of God itself
A sermon is never done until you preach it and preparation only ends when delivery begins because there are three living entities involved in every biblical sermon.
A quick aside:
I use the term “biblical” sermon here simply because I have to. The day we live in was described almost 2000 years ago by the Apostle Paul in the final letter he wrote to Timothy:
“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:2-4]
I’m sure I don’t need to cite specific examples here to convince you that there is a difference in our world today between a “sermon” and a “biblical sermon.” The key word there is “biblical.”
Back to the subject of this blog:
These three living entities involved in every sermon are one of the reasons preaching is a complex calling. You can’t completely “prepare your sermon” on Wednesday morning and then step into the pulpit half a week later and expect to take off. There is a runway period your preparation must endure if the 747 is going to lift off the ground. You can start the engine and begin moving down the runway early in the week. I have found that I have to begin prep early/mid-week if I’m going to get my mind and heart around the text in time to preach it. But stepping into the pulpit isn’t something you do without picking up speed from the text throughout the week; a Learjet doesn’t take off like a helicopter.
Because you, as the preacher, are alive (I hope). And your listener is alive. And the package you are charged with faithfully delivering is also alive!
Let me use this week as an example. I began preparing my sermon on Wednesday morning this week. In two hours I will step up to preach it. What is the difference between Wednesday morning and today for two of the living entities involved with this sermon I’m about to deliver; namely myself and the individual listener?
Friday morning in Newtown, CT all of our lives changed. Did evil exist before that morning? Yes. Had we even witnessed and experienced that specific kind of evil in our culture before? Sadly, yes. But as we wake up this morning and gather to worship together, our souls feel heavier than they did 4 days ago. And I’m not sure if they will ever be as light as they were before this incident. I don’t know that God intends them to be. The weight we feel is perhaps another indication that His image within us is real, alive, and longing for home.
The good news is the third living entity. As I (along with every other pastor in America) step into the pulpit this morning, there is an opportunity for both human entities present at the delivery of a biblical sermon to encounter the single divine one. As we faithfully get under the text, and allow God’s word to speak in and through it, we will experience what God intends.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [Hebrews 4:12-13]