In a culture that's driven more by images and icons, the importance of preaching is understandably called into question. Many of my friends communicate in memes and GIFs more than even text messages. We've gone from verbal shorthand (instead of typing "are you serious," people will type type "r u srs") to culling even more langauge from our vocabulary. With every image-based communication, it seems we're all just, well, this:
If our peers so commonly communicate without words, then why should we continue to preach? What's the point of speaking words about God to God's people?
Preaching matters, not because we've always done it that way, but because with our words we connect to God's Word in a unique way. This doesn't mean that preaching always does the job better than images; in fact, the church developed icons and symbols. This doesn't mean that preaching does the job better than music; indeed, we have scores of songs of all sorts built for the life of the church. It doesn't mean preacher does the job better than service; certainly an embodied Gospel lived in our every day lives makes all the difference in our work places, our homes, our schools, our parks, our politics, and throughout our social existence.
All these things do something that preaching can't do. And the converse is also true. Preaching (and other purely primarily verbal forms of faith like prayer) does something that these different expressions of faith can't do, not on their own. Preaching, at its best, helps us to examine our faith, to critically engage the entirety of our religious experience, from ancient text to present experience to future hope. Preaching matters because it's the locus of the church's communal continuing education. We reflect on God's actions on our behalf, as well as on our actions in response to God, and then are sent to encounter God and the world in all sorts of forms beyond preaching. Preaching is not the whole experience of divine communication, but it is certainly a part.
With that in mind, the next few post will be a loosely organized series around preaching matters. Why I believe preaching still deserves a regular place in Christian worship. Features on certain preachers and what makes their preaching meaningful. Suggestions on how to engage preaching, even if it's not the best sermon you've ever heard.
One way to illustrate the importance of preaching is to imagine a relationship. Imagine you're in love with someone. They bring you flowers. They rub their shoulders. They write letters. They introduce you to their friends. They play you songs. They can speak but they don't speak. They never say, "I love you."* We're left wanting for those words, those declarations and explanations of the relationship we have. We're left hoping for exhortations and inspirations based in that love. We're left wanting for a voice, whether a whisper or a shout, to connect us with the heart of our beloved. That's why preaching is important. Preaching, at its best, communicates the love of God to the church and the world, making that love blossom and grow all the more.
Do you think preaching matters? I'd love to hear from you in the comments or via email.
*Of course, there are some people in our lives who don't have language ability. These people aren't less loving because they can't communicate. In fact, they're often better than people who can speak at showing their love with actions and behaviors! The point here is that, when we have a certain means at our disposal and don't use those means, then we're left without the fullness of possible experience. One of the people I work with at our church is nonverbal, and while she doesn't speak her love in language, she shouts it with the voice that she has. I'm thankful for that, and it's no less valid than those who use words.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.