Monday, September 17, 2007

The Foundation of Preaching

On another weblog, Gottesblog another pastor who expresses deep devotion and commitment to the pastoral office shares a very poignant (profoundly moving) article entitled: Extemporaneous Preaching. It really is quite a wonderful article with many wonderful points regarding preaching.

Since I wish to emphasize some points from a different perspective, and hopefully without diminishing the fine points made in his article, I share my thoughts here rather than as a comment on his weblog.

While I do not share his stress of the importance of style or technique, particularly in the matter of preaching without a manuscript, I wish to pick up with his reference to Matthew 7:29 where Matthew highlights the response of the multitudes who heard Jesus. Here Matthew says:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matt 7:28-29)

Fr. Eckardt makes a lovely connection here to the matter of the authority, saying that this authority is in fact Jesus’ own person. This is absolutely true. It is a wonderful fact to behold. Yet it is not the point of this text, nor is it the way that Jesus usually speaks of his authority. Jesus spoke, especially during His ministry among the Jews, primarily in terms of the authority given to Him by the Father.

In this specific text, Matthew mentions the authority as the basis for what astonished the people. At what were they astonished? They were astonished at His doctrine. It was Jesus' doctrine that made His authority known.

St. Luke brings this forward in His account of the ministry of Jesus among the Jews.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (Luke 4:14-21)

This is really a wonderful example of the foundation of the preaching office. Jesus Himself demonstrates this foundation in His own preaching in the divine service. Now this is a different setting than when He preaches in the streets and on the mountainside and from a boat. In this instance Jesus preaches in the synagogue, as was His custom. Luke tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the ordinary day of worship, the Sabbath. On this day, He stood up to READ. The appointed pericope was handed to Him, the book of Isaiah. Jesus took the book, opened it to a specific text, and read that text. Then He closed the book and began to expound it, saying,

This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

While Jesus expounded this text with many other words, these are the ones that Luke says were what He said to them. The doctrine that Jesus taught was that He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He is the foundation of the Faith that is to be preached.

St. Paul says it to the Corinthian congregation with these words:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Style and technique are not the important factors in effective, faithful, and authoritative preaching. While these are certainly valuable, they are not the measure of a good preacher. Certainly a preacher should seek to speak with the joy and enthusiasm that the Gospel produces. Certainly a preacher should preach with the best grammar and style that he is able. But the foundation of preaching is Jesus as the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

What this means is that a preacher should always preach the words of the text. Even when preaching on a topic, this topic should be based upon clear textual preaching. In other words it should never be a contrived topic, but one that flows from the words of a text of the Holy Scriptures. After all, the doctrine is to be the doctrine of Jesus, of God. What a preacher thinks is not important, in fact his thoughts usually detract from the point of the text. The preacher is not the focus, not his skills, not his style, not his memory capacity, not his extemporaneousness.

The focus, the foundation, is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

But the doctrine that Matthew says is with authority, is not merely preaching the doctrine as factual matters to be believed. The doctrine that Jesus taught from authority is the preaching of the text of Scripture in such a way that the people not only hear the Truth, but actually receive Him, actually encounter Him.

This is a point that Fr. Eckardt makes quite nicely in saying that preaching is the preaching of the Mass. In other words, preaching is properly the preaching of the gift of the presence of Jesus to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Altar. He comes first through the preaching itself, but He comes to do more than touch the heart and soul. He comes actually to enter the person and give Himself to the person, but not individually, but to all. He comes to renew the unity of the true Faith by which we all must be saved, the true Faith by which we truly are joined in Christ. He comes to pour His blood forth to all who come to Him in the Sacrament of the New Testament in His blood. Here the forgiveness of sins is not merely heard, but it is taken into the mouth and swallowed as food for salvation and life.

If this is what a pastor preaches so that the congregants eagerly look to Jesus in the Sacrament and come humbly to receive Him in the divinely ordained means, the preaching is with the authority that Matthew records that Jesus preached. For then it truly is Jesus who is preaching, and with the authority that cannot be undone.

This, of course, is what St. Paul beautifully writes concerning the Sacrament, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew (proclaim) the Lord's death till he come." (1 Cor 11:26)

This is what the pastoral office is all about. This is the preaching office. If a pastor has carefully prepared such preaching, it really is more important that he preaches it carefully and with power than that he preach without a manuscript. If preaching has good eye contact and spontaneity, these can be very helpful. But these do not constitute preaching with authority and power. The administration of the Word, that is, Jesus, is the foundation of preaching.

If this is the foundation and expectation for both preacher and hearer, no one will be disappointed.

Certainly there are times and circumstances that demand extemporaneous preaching of Christ. The Lord Jesus promised that in such times that the Holy Spirit would provide the words. He also said that His preachers should not worry about what to say in those special times. But in the regular worship of the Church, the Scriptures call for good order, even certain patterns are prescribed. These are based upon the foundation, Christ crucified. All things in the Church are built upon this foundation. On this foundation the Church rests securely, in absolute and unshakable confidence.

Dear preacher, is this the foundation of your preaching? Dear hearer, is this the foundation of your hearing? If so, then be at peace and do not trouble yourselves, for you are receiving the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards the hearts and minds of those who are in Christ Jesus.

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