I recently had the opportunity to preach on a Sunday morning. Our Pastor was away, he asked me to fill the pulpit duties for him on that day. This is not the first time I have done so, but it is always a strange experience for me. The strangeness has nothing to do with standing up before a large assembly to speak – I do that for a living so there is no mystery there. It has much more to do with the nature of preaching itself.
Whenever I prepare and deliver a sermon, I am powerfully aware that what I am doing is akin to handling dynamite. The power inherent in THE WORD is always latent -- until it becomes manifest. And then all bets are off. Anything can happen. In Hebrews 4:12, the writer likens God’s word to a two edged sword, a devastating weapon. He compares it for it’s ability to cut through armor and clothing and flesh and bone, just as God’s message cuts through our defenses and into the very center of our beings. If the Writer were writing this today, he might choose a more powerful and modern weapon for his metaphor. Perhaps a Rocket Propelled Hand Grenade, or a Barrett M82A1 .50 caliber Sniper Rifle. One would certainly exhibit a great deal of care when handling an extremely sharp blade. How much more so with modern ordinance capable of extraordinary destruction upon the slightest press of a trigger.
But God's Word works as a kind of reverse dynamite. It can indeed blow up your life, but the blowing up only feels like destruction. What is destroyed is the former self. What emerges from the dust and rubble is the new man. It would be like building a house by tossing a couple of sticks of dynamite into a grove of trees. It wouldn’t work with dynamite and actual trees, but somehow, when you throw the Word of God into a grove of people, God uses the resulting explosions to build His kingdom. Go figure.
As I was pondering this most recently, it also occurred to me that if I’m feeling a little nervous about doing the preaching for this reason, then how should I feel about HEARING the preaching? After all, when I’m listening to the Word of God, the grenades are being launched at me. YIKES! Makes one sit up a bit straighter and feel more alert. One may not be able to avoid being shot at, but one might should pay attention to see it coming. I understand the soldiers in combat often develop a rather ambivalent attitude toward bullets and bombs, figuring that if it’s meant for me, then it’s gonna get me. There is no escaping, once God has you in his sights. His aim is accurate, and his weapons are unstoppable. If He means it for you, you are done for.But NOT done for. In fact, if He means it for you, you are just getting started. You don't die -- you live more completely and more fully than before. Again, the metaphor is like the negative of the truth. It makes everything look strange because all the colors are reversed. God’s bombs heal us. God’s bombs put things in their right places. God’s bombs bring peace. The process may feel a lot like getting blown up, but the ultimate end is reassembly of the shattered walls of creation.
I think I’ll always be a little nervous when I preach. I think I’m learning to think more clearly when I receive the Word as well. I shall try to resist the urge, upon the reading of the lesson, to duck under the chair while shouting, “INCOMING!”