Monday 3 July 2006

9.5 theses on listening to preaching

by Kim Fabricius

1. Preparing. You must prepare because you may prepare. God is about to gift you with the gospel! Although you can do nothing to be ready for it, you must do everything you can to get ready for it. You rightly expect the preacher to prepare before he preaches – and he rightly expects you to prepare before you listen. No lazy bastards in pulpit or in pew!

2. Expecting. When the preacher speaks, God will speak – to you: that must be not only your hope but also your expectation. So what that the Revd. Bloggs is errant and inept? The power of the sermon no more depends on the excellence of the preacher than the effectiveness of the eucharist depends on the character of the president. Treasure comes in cracked clay jars. Homiletics too is theologia crucis.

3. Focusing. More precisely, attendre, which is a “waiting” as well as a “centring”. This is never easy, but in contemporary culture, where the word has been displaced by the image and most people have the attention span of a gnat, it is harder than ever. Assume the same posture for the sermon as you do for prayer: resolute yet relaxed. Then fasten your seatbelt. (All churches should come equipped with seatbelts.)

4. Discerning. There is, of course, no guarantee that God will speak to you through the preacher. The preacher may come with gold, or with fool’s gold. You must test the spirits – which means that you must be critical. You must listen not only to the Word but also for the Word – which means (as the Reformers taught) that you must distinguish between Bible and gospel.

5. Praying. Critical intelligence is a necessary condition for listening to the sermon, but it is not a sufficient condition for hearing the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the ears of evangelical faith and understanding. “Veni, Creator Spiritus!” Epiclesis is as crucial in the ministry of the Word as it is in the ministry of the sacrament.

6. Dying. “When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die” (Bonhoeffer). Every act of worship is a funeral. In the sermon the preacher hereby notifies the congregation that it is dead and buried – an ex-people. This is not a metaphor, this is our reality coram Deo. Listen to the sermon as if it were your own obituary: it is. Judgement is now.

7. Rising. The sermon is your own obituary – it is also the announcement of your own re-birth. The preacher has been likened to a surgeon; he is also a midwife. If the first reaction to the sermon is recoil, the ultimate response is “Rejoice!” – and pass around the cigars! The non-people are a new people! Resurrection is now!

8. Serving. One who hears the Word but does not do the Word has not heard the Word. George Herbert said that “sermons are dangerous things; that none goes out of church as he came in.” “Pastor,” said the worshipper, “what a wonderful sermon!” “That,” replied the preacher, “remains to be seen.” When the liturgy is over, the leitourgia begins: your ministry of reconciliation and liberation.

9. Persevering. Once you belong to a church, the only grounds for leaving it are heresy or apostasy. Lousy preaching, alas, is not a status confessionis! Besides, God does not speak only from the pulpit, he speaks in the readings, prayers, creeds and communion. Bear with your preacher – he may be a cross sent for you to bear! – and make him a better preacher by being a better listener...

9.5. ...though Heckling might help too!


T. Baylor said...

Fantastic post.

David W. Congdon said...

As always, a joy to read. Personally, I am most appreciate of nos. 6 and 7. If those two were not only emphasized by the preacher but also believed by the church, Christianity would look much different.

Anonymous said...

In his book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Søren Kierkegaard addressed his readers as listeners who needed to appropriate the message individually and personally. “The talk does not address itself you as if to a particularly designated person, for it does not know who you are. But if you weigh the occasion vigorously, then it will be to you, whoever you may be, it will be as if spoken precisely to you. This is no due to any merit in the talk. It is the product of your own activity that for your own sake the talk is helpful to you; and it will be because of your own activity that you will be the one to whom the intimate ‘thou’ is spoken. This is your activity, it really is.” (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1948, 178-9)

Fred said...

Jean Vanier, a layman and the founder of l'Arche, gave this advice for listening to his talks, based on his own experience listening to sermons: Don't worry if you fall asleep, but when you wake up, pay attention to what you hear!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ray, for the Kierkegaard quote. You'll be pleased to know that Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing made my list (in F&T) of Twenty Essential Spiritual/Devotional Writings. (It was a toss-up between Purity and Works of Love.)

And thanks, Deep Furrows, for the Vanier reference. It reminds me of the advice that Herbert McCabe gave about "distractions" in prayer. McCabe suggested that trying to suppress them is a mistake, "For distractions almost always come because we are praying for the wrong thing, because we are praying not for what we really want but for what we think we ought to want. . . When you are visited by distractions, do not turn them away; turn yourself around and look at them; ask yourself what desires and worries and affections they come from. Then start praying about that. Once you are praying for what really concerns you, you will not be distracted. People on sinking ships complain of many things, but not distractions during their prayers."

Fred said...

Thanks Kim, for the McCabe on distractions. I would add that #8 reminds me of 2 Cor 3:2-3:

"You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh."

The proof of the pastor is in the congregation.


michael jensen said...

This is terrific. And thanks...

yes2truth aka Charles Crosby said...

I have never read a bigger load of crap in all my life.


Jim said...

I want to know why Kim doesn't have his (her? here in the States Kim is a female's name) own blog. Why? Whyyyyyyy?

Jim said...

Oh - and take no offense at mr yes- he clearly hasn't read anything I've written or he would obviously know what REAL crap is.


Anonymous said...

Hi Yes2Truth,

You should read some of my other stuff; you will quickly revise your opinion about where "9.5 Theses" stands on the crapola scale.

Check that - I have just taken a look at your blog "The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ", and as you have repented and been born again, and apparently, therefore, are now constitutionally incapable of sin, you must be right the first time.

Hi Jim. I am an ex-pat New Yorker ministering in Swansea (UK) - and male. As for having my own blogg, I am happy to sponge off Ben, and also Richard Hall (at Connexions) - as long as they tell me when I have overstayed my welcome.

Cheers everyone,

Ben Myers said...

"... load of crap" —Well, I suppose thesis 9.5 did invite a bit of heckling...

And Kim: hell will freeze over before you've overstayed your welcome here!

yes2truth aka Charles Crosby said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi y2t

Ben is right: I guess I asked for it with 9.5. And you've taken some time with me, out of concern for my crap-ridden soul (and you're right there). So thank you. I'd only say that you need a new concordance.

By the way, do you know the work of Flannery O'Connor? You remind me of someone . . .

Ben Myers said...

Although we welcome and enjoy different viewpoints here at Faith & Theology, and although there's nothing wrong with a bit of heckling, I have deleted y2t's last comment. I appreciate your point of view, y2t — but if you'd like to comment here in future, please refrain from shouting, from pronouncing damnation on other people, etc. Thanks.

byron smith said...

Thanks Ben (and Kim), well handled.

And thanks Kim for the post!

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