Monday: 3 September, 2012 –– 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 / Luke 4:16–30
THE WEAKNESS & POWER OF PREACHING
Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s proclamation: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.... He has sent me to proclaim.... In the epistle, St Paul draws our attention to the weakness and power of preaching. What is this thing called preaching that I do and you listen to? Paul has three thoughts in this section of his letter that go together: The message of the cross is foolish in terms of worldly wisdom. And not only the message of the cross, but Christians –– people of the cross –– are foolish (at least to an unbelieving world). Now, to complete the triad, the way it all happens –– preaching –– is also foolishness. Preaching is a weakness that illustrates the kind of foolishness God has chosen to honor, and yet preaching is also a way of revealing God's power.
Preaching has a definite message. Paul says it centers on Jesus Christ and him crucified (v2). In the words of the preceding verses, preaching is declaring the truth of righteousness, holiness and redemption in Jesus (1:30). If this is not true –– if God has not given us salvation from sin in Jesus Christ –– then preaching is ridiculous and the church can shut its doors and put up a "CLOSED" sign. But if it is true that God has given us salvation from sin in Jesus Christ, then there is something to proclaim with the loudest voice and the greatest authority. So if a preacher stoops to peddle pop psychology or merely plays with cute little stories and worn out cliches, then there will be no confidence in the gospel, for the gospel will not be heard. True preaching is telling the message of the cross.
Preaching is not limited to its content, though. With apostolic preaching, the method should match the message. While there are “mechanics” one can use in preaching to make it look and sound better (I think of today’s mega-churches and their sound and light show), look at Paul's response to that: I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom (v1), and again, My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words (v4). In other words, he did not try to distinguish himself or try to impress or use sensationalism. I’ve often wondered, facetiously, how St Paul could have such effect in his time without a PA system or a computer! Paul had a message which ran counter to the world's way of thinking: it was the cross. Paul’s manner and method matched his message. He did not try to "knock 'em over" with his brilliance or with his presence. Paul believed the message so much that he was willing to practice it in his own life and ministry.
There is one standard of apostolic preaching, and Paul tells us what it is: a demonstration of the Spirit's power. When all is said and done, a good sermon is one in which the Holy Spirit has worked. It can be a sermon which brings us face to face with God in worship. It can encourage us in obedience or drive us to repentance. It can give us fresh resolve to love Jesus with all our hearts. The one thing true preaching cannot do is merely give our brains an academic stretch or titillate our emotions and then leave us just like we were. It is because God has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching to draw people to his Son. What God wants is for us to be is like Jesus. So we preach Jesus. Anything else is playing a game.