The preachers’ dilemma: words used to communicate the deep mysteries of God are like mallets used for brain surgery — blunt and clumsy instruments, ill-suited for the task. Yet, they are what we have in that brief liturgical window allotted the sermon each Sunday. So, we struggle to make them work, to make the true, and just perhaps, in rare and glimmering moments, to make them shine with God’s reflected glory. If words are used well, that is, if the Holy Spirit inspires those words, they become verbal icons — windows opening onto the vista of God. Except for those who sell them or wash them, no one looks at windows; we look through them. Perhaps the best sermons function the same; we do not so much hear them as we hear God speaking through them. The good sermon instructs. The better sermon instructs and inspires. The best sermon enlightens; it disappears entirely as it gives way to the glorious presence of the Word who was in the beginning, who was with God, who was and is God. I have never preached such a sermon.
The liturgy is awash with words, beautifully crafted and full of truth. It may well and profitably be studied for a lifetime as an expression of orthodoxy: right glory — true faith and true worship. And yet, its words are never ends, but means. They lift us as does a rising wave, building in force and momentum and carrying us with them until they break upon the altar and deposit us there on our knees in the presence of the one who loves us and gave himself for us. When words do this, they have fulfilled their true purpose.
All words spoken in the name of Christ are powerful and dynamic. They do not leave the hearer unaffected. They help or hinder, heal or wound, loose or bind. Silence is often the prudent path, but it is not always the path God bids us walk. So we tread very carefully the way of words. We struggle to use them well: to bless, to forgive, to encourage, to exhort. And we pray, when we ineptly use them as mallets for brain surgery, that our lives speak more clearly still, more truly than our clumsy words.
Lord, open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Photo: Mary Kathleen Roop. Used by permission.