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 jerks 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 Rev. 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!