It is good for preachers to listen to other preachers.
Other preachers are part of the gift that Christ gives us in being part of his church. Over the years I have listened to hundreds of sermons by Timothy Keller and have learned a great deal about the what gospel-centred preaching looks like. I have also enjoyed reading sermons from the 2,000 year history of the church.
Recently having completed the marathon of reading through the 7 volumes containing 400+ sermons by Augustine I am now tackling his two big volumes of Homilies on John’s Gospel. After reading one of these homilies each day I am posting a short extract @PreacherDead on Twitter. One of Augustine’s introductions was too long for a tweet but too good not to pass over without comment.
“I must confess to your Holinesses that I am afraid this cold weather might cool your willingness to come together today. But this big crowd gathered here is a demonstration of how fervent in spirit you are, and so I have no doubt at all you have prayed that I might be able to pay the debt I owe you … May God satisfy your expectations from my lips! Love, after all, has made you come; but love of what? If love of me, that is fine; for I do want to be loved by you — but I do not want to be loved just for myself. Because I love you in Christ, please, therefore, love me back in Christ, and may our mutual love groan to God: for love is the groaning of the Dove.”
(Augustine Homily on John’s Gospel 6)
In an energy crisis it is easy to identify with the concern that a change in the weather might make people less inclined to attend a draughty church. Yet Augustine, like so many preachers over the centuries, knows what it is like to have a turn out that far exceeds expectations.
What particularly strikes me about Augustine’s words is that they display a beautiful relationship of love between him and the people in his congregation.
He is confident that they have been praying for him and he is conscious of the debt he owes them to deliver the goods in his sermon.
This dynamic relationship between preacher and people is rooted in love. In this Augustine rejoices but wants to drill down deeper to examine what that love is flowing from.
It can come from an affection for the preacher. If that is the case Augustine is glad to receive that love but does not want to be the sole recipient of that love and so become a potential idol.
Our mutual love is fuelled by the love of Christ and directed toward a desire to love Christ more and more. The fire of love expressed by preacher and people is a beautiful thing to witness, but these loves are designed to mingle and rise in a joint act of longing for Christ himself.