“The primary confession of the Christian before the world is the deed which interprets itself.” -Bonhoeffer

Christian preaching is a matter of proclamation.  But all the accounts of proclamation in the Scriptures, Elijah before Ahab, Paul before the Sanhedrin, and for that matter, the sort of anti-proclamation of Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate, never simply rest on the words alone.  The words magnify the actions, the moment, the confrontation of deceit, the surrender to truth, the relinquishment of self to the Power of God over the powers of the world, even while the powers of the world may have their way for the present.  The confession of the Gospel goes to the places, whether spatially, psychologically, or rhetorically, where sin and death and violence are seated, to declare a conquest of love, a triumph of humility, a reign of grace, in the Person and kingdom of Christ.

For a little more than a decade, I was a periodic preacher in my small church.  I am in the midst of an indefinite sabbatical, an extended break, which has been an opportunity to step back and take a deep breath and reassess the unfathomable prospect of trying to exposit the Word of God, or more accurately, try to clear away my dirt and displace my shadows enough to make way for the illumination of the Word of God to shine without my detractions.  The angle of repose this break has provided makes me think it incredulous in retrospect–what did I think I was doing up there, speaking for God?  A conscientious preacher must always be horrified by the hubris between the heights of the Message and the depths of we its conduits.

The most profound realization that leaving the pulpit has afforded me is that I was so concerned with my performance, in an entirely human sense, as a preacher that I completely missed the real stakes involved.  I mostly thought about how the sermon would be received, how effective the illustrations, whether anyone would laugh at the jokes, if I could move anyone enough with my pathos, my perspicacity, my persuasion, to keep coming back on Sundays, to participate in our activities, to buy the spiritual goods I was selling.  Like missing the banquet for the garnish.  In fact, what God was concerned with was the integrity of my life, and whether or not I was willing to go to the pained and broken places in the congregants’ lives, in our community, in society, and declare Gospel there, in word and deed.

Now I am wandering in the desert, but thankfully so.  Thankfully in search of what faithfulness and witness looks like when I cannot check “preaching” off my list via an occasional Sunday duty.  I don’t wish to be a comforting church show.  I hope God can use me as an instrument, cracked and out of tune, but reliably willing, in the temple courts, before the halls of power, on the dusty roads where the wounded lie, to proclaim the good news of God’s justice and love there.

One thought on ““The primary confession of the Christian before the world is the deed which interprets itself.” -Bonhoeffer

  1. What a magnificent reflection, Paul, thank you so much for sharing. I realize this article was written two years ago, and I’m sure much has changed in your life since then, but the truths represented here are always relevant, particularly to we who wear the collar. Thanks for giving me a little comfort and inspiration by sharing what’s on your heart. God bless!

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