This past week, Rich Hagopian preached on I Corinthians 14:1-25. I was challenged by his take away point of, are we exercising our gifts to encourage, strengthen and comfort others such that people who encounter our congregation say, “God is among you.” In particular, Rich emphasized that we are an “embodied word” people who through our gifts of helps, compassion and other forms of service, live out the truth of the gospel. We tend be a people who do the truth, rather than talk about it, which is probably a good place for someone who is like me to be. In an academic world like Ohio State, we can often think that to simply talk about something or even to think right about it is enough. But talk doesn’t feed the hungry or comfort and heal the sick or provide transportation to those who need it.
At the same time, I was struck by some of Rich’s earlier comments on the nature of prophetic speech as “forthtelling” and how this is a form of speaking God’s word that lays bare the secrets of our hearts, that brings conviction of where we’ve missed the mark, and that even expands the church as those who do not believe hear a word from God in a compelling way. In some circles, this is called going from preaching to meddling!
I hear lots of messages in my work. It is easy to get into a “been there, heard that” mindset. One of the things I’ve appreciated about Rich (and others who preach at Smoky Row) is that it is apparent that he has sought to really listen to the text to hear what God is saying for our congregation. I am surprised by how many times on a Sunday I am surprised by new insights and challenges Rich brings to us. I’ve found I have to go home and do business with God. Sometimes I’ve found myself chewing on things all week. I think we see in such preaching a “prophetic” element.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:1 encourages the church to desire this gift. One of the things I wonder is whether part of desiring such a gift is welcoming its expression, which means welcoming the Spirit of God to meddle in our lives through the preached word! In the African-American church tradition, it is thought that the effectiveness of the sermon is as much the congregation’s responsibility as the preacher’s. Here are a few of my thoughts of what it might mean for us to desire and welcome prophetic preaching in our midst:
1. It means we pray for whoever is preaching, for their preparation, for their protection from attack and distraction, and that God would make clear to them His word for us. It seems this is something to pray for whenever we pray for our church.
2. It means praying for ourselves, that we would have open ears and tender hearts and enlightened minds to receive what God has for us. It might mean that on Saturday night or Sunday morning we spend time asking the Lord to help us with this.
3. Sermon time can often be day-dream time (or even nap time–true confessions!) for me. What do I need to do to come attentive to hear what God might say through the message? Maybe it means getting adequate sleep. I’ve started using the outlines to take notes–that helps me listen. For others that could be a distraction.
4. The other issue for me is whether I keep reflecting, keep thinking about what I’ve heard after Sunday morning. Re-reading the scripture text and going online to read or listen to the sermon again can help. Reading (and writing!) these posts can help. Our “going deeper” discussions in life groups are especially important in becoming accountable to each other for what God is saying.
It strikes me that God will likely not give what we don’t welcome. In our welcome of prophetic preaching, we also position ourselves to be a community where others may say, “God is among you.”