I was a guest preacher at a friend’s church this Sunday, and this is always an ambivalent experience for me. Those who have some history with me will know already that my relationship with the institutional Christian church is not exactly orthodox, and they will probably know also that I am particularly uncomfortable both with the function of the Pastor and, to a lesser degree, with the function of the sermon, as these things have come to be understood in most Protestant churches.
This begs the question, of course, and there are several of my friends who have not left it begging, why do I still preach when I am asked. Dave Humphrey posed this question to me the last time we were together for coffee, and I must confess that I had no very good answer for him. I had to admit the extreme unlikelihood that my preaching would have any substantial influence on the church culture to which I am so opposed, and also had to admit, to myself, after Dave had gone home, that my preaching was much more likely to actually reinforce this culture by using the kinds of traditional forms that it finds familiar and reassuring.
I realized yesterday, however, as I was actually preaching, that this whole line of reasoning is wrong in the extreme, because it assumes that I have to be concerned with discovering the correct form and time and place of my speaking, when any medium and any time and any place will always be the wrong medium and the wrong time and the wrong place. It is not a question of finding how I might speak appropriately. It is a matter of recognizing that whatever I speak, especially if it presumes to speak about God, will always be inappropriate, in every case, by definition.
It is not my responsibility to speak rightly. It is not my responsibility to accomplish anything through what I speak. It is only my responsibility to make my speech open to what God might do through it. If there is a God, something I believe but that I refuse to insist upon by any knowledge or by any guarantee, then it will always be up to this God to do what is necessary through me, whether I am speaking from a pulpit or from anywhere else.
The invitation to preach, therefore, at least to me, is an invitation to make myself available to what God might do through me. It is an opportunity to see what might be accomplished, even if I do not actually see that anything has been accomplished. It is an opening where I can do the best with what I have and offer this without expectation, just because it has been asked of me, and where I can do nothing else but hope that God will fulfil what God wills to fulfil.
This does not mean that everyone must preach, of course, or even that everyone who is asked must preach. It means only that I must preach, beacuse I am asked to do so, not by any church, but by an obligation to something that I do not hope to understand but nevertheless hope to believe.