Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yesterday's Inspiration: The naked preacher

On days like these, when I have nothing particularly on my mind to write about, I am tempted to "go to the well," that is, to dig out some previously written piece, polish it up here and there, and post it here. Well (pardon the pun), that's what you're about to read here. I wrote down most of these thoughts about five years ago. When I go back and read some of the articles I wrote or some of the sermons I preached back then, I am amazed at how naive I was, how incomplete my grasp of this or that subject was, and how utterly foolish I was to think I was qualified to speak or write about it.

Preaching is, in many respects, a form of low comedy and preachers are the world's worst comedians. Every Sunday (or, in my case these days, every Monday and Wednesday), we stand in the pulpit and presume to speak, using the finite language of an imperfect humanity, on behalf of an infinitely perfect God. We wear fancy robes and seat ourselves on a platform exalted above the people in the pews. I seem to recall Jesus warning the people to beware of those who wrapped themselves in such regalia and took the best seats in the house. Even more intimidating is the mandate of Exodus 20.26, "And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it."

Perhaps that is why we wear robes. But does this not suggest that the preacher is more naked than the parishioner? After all, the parishioner is neither robed nor seated on a high platform. It is the preacher who stands in the pulpit, robed in a splendor which usually speaks more of academic than of spiritual achievement, and declares, "Thus says the Lord!"

Here is the punch line to this most magnificent joke. The preacher is the most naked of all. Yet God, in his infinite mercy and grace, somehow uses the inadequate and often presumptuous words of a common sinner to clothe the naked with a measure of heavenly splendor and feed the hungry with the bread of life.