I begin with a confession: I. Hate. Preaching. I loathe it. I fear it. When I read my name on a preaching calendar or in a bulletin my stomach turns to knots and I tremble. And it’s not just the process of writing or delivering a sermon. No, I even loathe listening to sermons. When my colleagues ask me to read their sermons, I make excuses. When professors ask me to reflect on a sermon, I beg for exemption. Once as a child when my mother complimented me for being so well behaved, for paying such well attention to that day’s sermon, I couldn’t bare to tell her the truth that I was more concentrated on watching the wax drip from the chancel candles than what the pastor had said.
I fear the pulpit – most of them massive and grand; most with delicate carved images. And this pulpit, this very pulpit dominates the chancel and our worship together. This pulpit – a mammoth in history, a pulpit of many prophets, of Jacob Manning and George Gordon, of Russell Stafford and Frederick Meek, of James Crawford, yes, of course, Nancy Taylor. I fear the pulpit though not because of its beauty or its stature, but because it is here in the pulpit that the Word of God is unfolded throughout human history. It is here, in the pulpit where we listen to stories of ages past and we pray for our looming futures. It is also here where words hold such meaning. It has been said that it is a high and holy task, preaching is. A task that will carry us right to the heavens, right to the throne of God.
Our text this morning picks up mid-story. The previous chapter brings us to the burning bush and Moses’ encounter with God of Israel. And this God charged Moses with the hefty task of assembling the elders of Israel to begin the exodus from Egypt; to deliver the Hebrews from oppression. This mighty endeavor required that Moses speak with the authority and power of God. Moses unsure of himself, unsure of his abilities, feared the task before him: to speak for the purposes of God. “Lord I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to you servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Can you blame Moses? Poor Moses. If it is not enough that God appears to him in a burning bush, he is then commanded to liberate a whole people and do so with the tongue of God. (Pause) It makes the pulpit look easy in comparison. After all I am not liberating a whole nation, I have not had a conversation with God in the same caliber as Moses, and certainly if I said I had you many of you would be on your way out the door. Yes, this story of Moses bantering with his creator makes this all look so easy.
Moses is not thought of as the great preacher in the Hebrew Scriptures. Legend tells us that he suffered from a great verbal stutter, yet he was known as the great liberator. If what the scriptures say is true, if we look closely in these ancient texts God is calling Moses to liberate through his words. He would be the mouth for God’s voice. God is calling Moses to preach.
So then, what does it mean for us today to preach? For those of us who have not seen God in a burning bush or in the windstorms of the desert, how do we preach? Does it require “the pulpit”? Does it require a sole voice with a congregation of willing ears? What does it mean to really preach? To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the good news that life and love will always conquer death and hatred. It is to proclaim that sweet news that resurrection is possible and that days of a status quo society are numbered. To preach or proclaim the Gospel is a large responsibility. Daunting to say the least. To crack open the Word of God in a new light, in a new tongue may cause even the best preachers among us to stutter. And perhaps it should.
But here is what I think: I think we believe so often that this is just enough. I think we believe that this pulpit, that this hour every Sunday is just enough to call ourselves a preaching church; a preaching people. Oh but that is not enough. It is not enough to think our only responsibility with this task it to sit back and listen.
So here is what I think preaching is: preaching is our Old South mission team going forth to New Orleans or to Staten Island to provide relief for the brokenhearted and the suffering.
Preaching is the prayer and concern cards, in those carefully bound care packages prepared by the Care and Support committee, sending a healing balm to who need it most.
Preaching is in the boxes of food and resources that are sent off to food pantries and local charities to feed the hungry and nourish the needy.
Preaching is in the volunteering at Sunday’s Bread to prepare, to cook, to serve a hot meal to the hungry.
Preaching is the warm welcome to a stranger, in that hug, in the handshake, in that smile to the one who has no place to go, to the one looking for a community, to the one looking to just be.
Preaching is in that work, that holy work, the church does to ensure that all persons, regardless of their race or sexuality, are treated with dignity and respect.
Preaching is in the voices of those who march to Beacon Hill to protect affordable healthcare, protect affordable housing.
Preaching is in the widening of God’s love, in the openness of the Lord’s Supper, in the unhinged doors to this community.
Preaching is in the waiting and comforting as a friend, as someone you love navigates their AIDS treatment.
Preaching is in the holding of the widow’s hand as she buries the one she loves.
Preaching is sharing in the burdens of life, the joys of life, the compassion of life.
Yes, preaching is words. Yes, preaching is a pulpit, perhaps a robe, and willing ears for after all we must be fed by the Word of God; we must be equipped to do this high and holy work of building God’s kingdom here. But friends preaching can be more than just that hour; preaching is much more.
Moses. The man responsible for the liberation of a whole people preached with his willingness to obey God’s invitation, with his brave presence before Pharaoh, with each footstep he took as a leader leading God’s people out of oppression. Moses preached to others by his conversations with God, by his disappearance up the Sinai, and his patience in the desert.
And just as Moses preached with more than just his mouth, we preach with our feet (where they take us), with our hearts (when they break us), with our tears (when they leave us), and with our presence (where God leads us)
So Old South, so Church of Jesus Christ, bring this message of hope, this message of love and life, of compassion and resurrection out into the world. Bring it in your actions, bring it with your feet and your hands, bring it with your voice and your vote, bring it with you mouth. Go forth and preach because God has called you, and this world, this creation, this pulpit that God has given you just cannot wait. Amen.