I’m hoping that preaching every Sunday is like riding a bicycle because it has been nine years since I broke the habit. We’ll find out soon. Come see for yourself if you are near Malibu starting this weekend (10:15am, Elkins Auditorium, Pepperdine University).
I have known several impressive teachers and scholars who regularly communicate complicated material to large groups of people and yet are totally freaked out by the prospect of delivering a twenty-five minute sermon. At first I thought they were crazy, but it actually does make some sense. Preaching is its own animal.
When I moved to Malibu for law school in 2008 after a decade of preaching, I had the pleasure of listening to Ken Durham preach each Sunday. After my first year here, Ken asked me to fill in for him one Sunday. I accepted and on that Sunday in the summer of 2009 read a classic selection from Frederick Buechner that is my all-time favorite description of the preaching moment. As I mentally prepare to climb back on the proverbial horse, here it is once again:
“So the sermon hymn comes to a close with a somewhat unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down. Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick runthrough of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit with his sermon in his hand. He hikes his black robe up at the knee so he will not trip over it on the way up. His mouth is a little dry. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else. In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee . . . . The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this minute he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it. Everybody is listening including even himself. Everybody knows the kind of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them? Let him tell them the truth.”