I am often struck by the sheer ordinariness of preaching. It is very easy, I believe, to view preaching as a divine activity where the Holy Spirit is whispering into the ear of the preacher what he is to say, much like you occasionally see with icons of the Evangelists. But I’m here to tell you, it simply doesn’t work that way.
Preaching is work. Hard work. Sometimes they flow like a river; other times it is more like molasses on a cold day. The process varies widely. When preaching is “working” well for me, it is because I am generally following a strict regimen. I do exegetical work on Monday; dogmatic reading on Tuesday; other sermons on Wednesday; finally I write on Thursday. That is how it works best for me, or at least it has in the past.
Reality, however, rarely fits the ideal. I’ve been on a streak now for some weeks (months? I don’t really want to know) of not getting my sermons done until Saturday, or more often Sunday morning. What this often means is that the sermons are partially reruns from past years, or simply don’t have the forethought and care put into them which I would like. I don’t say this to whine or be self-deprecating. That’s just the way it is right now.
But whether the sermons are well prepared or not, whether they meet my (somewhat anal) structure or not, it doesn’t matter. God still makes use of them. He still does mighty things through this ordinary task of preaching the Gospel. Herman Sasse once wrote:
“The humble preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the simple Sacraments are the greatest things that can happen in the world. For in these things the hidden reign of Christ is consummated. He himself is present in these means of grace, and the bearer of the ministry of the church actually stands in the stead of Christ. That certainly puts an end to any clerical conceit. We are nothing. He is everything. And that means that the terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with as well. It is nothing but doubt and unbelief, for Christ the Lord is just as present in His means of grace today as He was in the sixteenth or the first century And ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ [Matt. 28:18] is just as much His today as it was when He first spoke that promise to the apostles. And it remains so into all eternity. Do we still believe this?” ((Hermann Sasse, “The Lutheran Doctrine of the Office of the Ministry”, in The Lonely Way: II, St. Louis: CPH, 1992, pg. 139.))
We preachers forget this all too often. This is it. God works through means, and the means He uses are these ordinary words, bread, wine and water. It’s not a formula. It’s not magic. It’s the Gospel, hidden where we least expect it. It is a miracle every time.
So tomorrow morning, o preachers, when you ascend the pulpit one more time, remember this: God is at work through you. Your preaching is not in vain. God will do what He promises with it.