Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sermons and the Spirit

Recently, as I prepared a sermon about the role of the Holy Spirit, I found myself thinking about how the Spirit works in the process of the preacher preparing and presenting the sermon and in the hearers hearing the sermon. While I work hard at being true to the biblical text I choose, I have learned to accept some unavoidable truths. Sometimes, I miss the mark. Often people hear something other than I preach.

Sometimes a sermon can deal with a whole text as chosen by the preacher. Often, it cannot. In some cases, the chosen text is the sermon or, at least, it shapes the core of the sermon. Any chosen text should inform the sermon; though all preachers, this one included, is capable of choosing a text and springing forth from it, which is not always bad.

In both college and seminary preaching classes, I was taught better. The preacher must be true to the text! In my mind, I can still hear Dr. Ham Kimzey saying that to our class. He was critical of those preachers who chose a text and then “sprang forth from it.” For the most part I agree with my former teacher, who, by the way, was the first honest and consistant liberal Baptist I met. Unlike some liberals, he never hid his light under a bushel basket. He let it shine. As a result, fundamentalist-leaning students sometimes held prayer meetings on his front lawn. Dr. Kimzey thanked them saying, “I need the prayers and you need the practice.” I digress . . .

. . . but that is my point. Spring forth is not always bad. What is always bad is misusing one’s text, using it to say what it does not and cannot say.

Sometimes a text leads one in a direction never intended by the author . . . but perhaps not unintended by God who inspired the author/s and inspires the reader and preacher. Maybe it is a Spirit thing.

It works the same for those who listen to sermons. I am constantly amazed by what others hear in my sermons. Often what they hear is not at all what I said. Did I miscommunicate? In some cases, I am sure I did; but in other cases, I’m not so sure. In some cases, I have come to believe that the Spirit moves in mysterious ways to take the preacher’s sermon as preached and cause it to speak to the needs of those who hear. Surely, in more than some of the cases, for the Spirit do this, there must be some reinterpreting so that the hearer may hear what she needs in and through and in spite of what the preacher actually said.

I don’t always like that what people sometimes hear in my sermon is not what I said; but I have seen lives altered in positive ways by what the hearer heard in what I did not say.

The presence and work of the Spirit in preacher and hearer makes coming to church both safer and more edifying than it might otherwise be. Thus, I pray:

Come, Holy Spirit; dark is the hour.
We need Your filling,
Your love and Your mighty power.
Move now among us; stir us we pray.
Come, Holy Spirit; revive the church today.