As I prepare for the last time I will preach as a student in placement I’m thinking hard about all points of the “preaching triangle” of God, preacher, and hearers. In sermon preparation it’s sometimes tempting only to think about oneself as the medium through which God’s word (as one has found it in Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) will be transmitted to those who will hear.
This week more than most I’m aware of all the complexities to be found at all points of the triangle and how important it is to be aware of oneself as passive as well as active in all the relationships that exist in the event of preaching.
Greyfriars is a wonderfully exciting. diverse and distinctive church community and my sermon on Sunday will be heard by their minister, my supervisor, as a member of that community and as its pastor. I know at all well only those members of the congregation whose interests and involvement with the Kirk touch my own.
The passage I have been given to preach on, from Chapter 8 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, is one that, like most of Paul, requires a good deal of contextualising to even begin to grasp and so the discernment in it of the word for Sunday requires study that might, if one isn’t careful, come to substitute for discernment.
I, meanwhile, am at a particular moment in my own life. I have finished my studies except for the completion of my dissertation which therefore looms large in my thinking and am beginning to look forward to the ministry I am about to begin.
All of this creates what seems to me to be more than usual perplexity at all three angles. To whom are my words properly addressed? The reflections I wished to share with Greyfriars’ minister on what I have learned from him have already been shared but in speaking to his congregation they are inevitably present in my mind. I want to express my gratitude to him and to those members of the congregation who have been helpful to me in various ways. I want, too, to share with the whole community some of my impressions of them.
At the same time I feel it is always important that the preacher shares something of themselves, of their own relationship to God, their own disciple journey, their own perplexities and struggles. The means of doing this are different where one is known to all but much better known to some. How to judge what will be helpful, edifying, when one’s level of acquaintance is so uneven?
Finally it is important in my theology of preaching that the text as the place of encounter, of revelation, plays a leading role in shaping what’s said without the exegesis of it substituting for the word that is needed now and here,
In getting ready to preach a question I always ask myself, having thought hard about the text, about the context into which I am to open that text, and about where I find myself, is: what do I want this sermon to do? I know it won’t necessarily do what I intend, nor will people even hear what I intend to say, but nonetheless it seems to me important that one knows what one is trying to do, the effect one would like to have.
Does one wish to encourage, to challenge, to admonish, to instruct, to enthuse or what? This answer itself is one that needs to be walked around the angles. What do I want (God) to do to myself is a legitimate and necessary question. Something I am increasingly aware of is that when I preach I am myself among the listeners. I’m often surprised by my own words as I say them, struck by an idea that I hadn’t realised I’d had in and behind what I’m saying.
We aren’t in control of our own preaching and what a relief that is. This Sunday feels like a big deal to me. It’s my last Sunday at Greyfriars but it’s a turning point greater than that. It’s my last student sermon, I look forward to hearing it.