Each year I read a book on preaching during Lent to help me prepare for Easter. This year I chose William Willamon’s Undone by Easter: Keeping preaching fresh.
I must admit as a ploughed through the 97 pages I felt like I had been dragged back into the classroom for a refresher course not simply on preaching but in faith: preaching 101.
Given part of my task in reading books such of these during Lent is to refresh my preaching I found myself feeling being quietly corrected as Willamon drew on one of his inspirations, Karl Barth. “Barth suggests that there is a word for my desire to be fresh, new, and interesting in the pulpit. The word is idolatry.”
Page after page I felt drawn back towards by Reformed roots, to Calvin, to Barth, to Bonhoefffer as Willamon reiterated again and again the work of proclamation is God’s. “It isn’t a sermon until God says it’s a sermon.”
Yet this stark theme of God at work did not leave me, the preacher, with nothing to do. He reminded me that, “Preaching is a form of prayer in which preacher and congregation show their utter dependence upon God to enter time, seize time, and speak – now.” And so in entering into this prayerful task preachers are called to tell the story of Christ again and again.
“Faithful repetition is what we do; making it fresh is God’s business. Our chief task is not to succeed but to try to preach again next Sunday, to keep at it, to keep saying the gospel, over and over again, confidently repetitious, sure in the conviction that God gives the gospel the hearing it deserves if we will stick with words akin to the God who sticks with us.”
As I came to end of reading the book and admittedly feeling somewhat chastened I considered again the passages for Sunday and wondered what God might say through me, beyond me, even in spite of me this week I sought to proclaim the gospel.
For anyone engaged in the task of preaching I would highly recommend this little book. At less than a 100 pages it packs a pretty good punch as I was left ruminating over phrase, quotes and thoughts and more to point inspired not to preach freshly but to listen again faithfully to God’s speaking in the midst of the congregation.
This book is a follow up to Willamon’s longer reflection on preaching Conversations with Barth on Preaching which now sits among the current pile of books I am reading.