This week John Woods challenges us to find our voice through love.
One of the knock-on effects of online church is that suddenly there is a fully stocked superstore in cyberspace with numerous preaching voices available at the click of a mouse. Not that I am recommending it, but it is possible to do a virtual church crawl every Sunday.
Some people are beginning to think that this is better than real church. Having preachers on shuffle can seem to be better than having the same one each time.
Some preachers are having feelings of inferiority, wondering how they can compete with such polished media creations. There is the obvious temptation to copy these preachers. This might be a big mistake. It is always better to be the best version of yourself than a second-best version of someone else.
Perhaps some of the best sermons ever preached have hardly been noticed by more than a handful of people. Local preachers know the setting in which they are preaching, they know the people, have listened to their questions and their problems.
When the congregation hears this preacher, they are able to make the response:
“Here is a person who has taken time to understand who I am and what I need.”
The jazz musician Miles Davis made the comment that:
“Sometimes you need to play for a long time to sound like yourself.”
It reminds me of one of the most famous definitions of preaching that:
“Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.” (Philips Brooks)
I guess that we might call these words of Miles Davis and Philips Brooks what is meant by learning to be comfortable in our own skin.
We might not be the best preacher in the world but can the best preacher that God has made us. What does that mean in practice? One of the qualities that is almost universally valued is authenticity. Being faithful, speaking from the heart and living out what we say is what it means to be authentic.
When Jesus was asked about what is the greatest commandment, his reply was pertinent for us all, and especially for the preacher.
“The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31)
Love God and love people. That is a way to find a voice that is worth hearing.
One of the most ancient books on preaching was written by the fifth century preacher Augustine of Hippo. In On Christian Teaching Augustine makes it plain that such an attitude of love is essential for anyone seeking to preach the word, and without it we have not even begun to grasp what Scripture is saying.
“Thus, all your thoughts and your whole life and all your intelligence should be focused on him from whom you have received the very things you devote to him … So if it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbour, then you have not understood them.”
I guess that is what Paul meant when he said that without love he was merely a
“… resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
With a heart full of faithful love for God, people and Scripture, you have a voice.