Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Sermon as Love Song

At the Symposium on Catechesis this past June in Sussex, Wisconsin, the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch , Gotteseditor, made some observations about what he wanted in the sermons heard by his grown children who are now married and living in other states. I find this to often be the case: Stuckwisch speaks and I think it about it for months.

What I remember is that he said he wanted his children in parishes that enjoyed liturgical preaching. I asked him what that meant, what is "liturgical preaching?" He said something like: "Liturgical preaching is lectionary-based, tied closely to the church year, and aware of its surroundings in the liturgy. It consciously and deliberately leads to the Altar."

His emphasis was on preaching's connection to the Sacrament. But I think his answer could have been summed up with "aware of its surroundings." What surrounds the sermon is the liturgy and that upon which the liturgy centers on and to what it always leads is the Holy Communion. I am not claiming his emphasis was off, just suggesting that sometimes think of the liturgy, preaching, and the Sacrament as separate things. What Stuckwisch helped me see better, was that connection.

The Service God provides (hence the German Gottesdienst and the English "Divine Service") to His people is the ultimate reconciliation, His re-communion with them, His entrance into their hearts by way of their mouths, which cleanses their lips and enables them once more to sing His praise and thereby expose what is now, by grace, by the Holy Communion, in their hearts. For it is what comes out of a man that renders him unclean or cleanses him. If we were to be crass (and since when has the Gottesdienst Crowd ever shied away from being crass?) we might say that the Holy Communion is make-up sex.

What then is the sermon? The sermon is the pledge reconciliation, the refusal to let the sun go down on one's anger. The Law is needed, for the beloved needs to know her crimes and how she has endangered Love. She needs to repent. But the conclusion is foregone. The sermon never serves divorce papers. The crimes are repeated, the beloved is exposed, but this not in malice but for edification, that she would learn, that she would grow. And what does she learn? Perhaps she learns something of what her behavior should be, of what her love for the Lover should look like, but mainly she learns how great, steadfast, and compassionate is the Love of Him who loves here perfectly and without end.

The sermon plays a central role in the context of the liturgy. For it takes the Word of God, Law and Gospel, from Propers and Ordinaries, and applies them to the specifics of the case at hand, that the Bride might enter again into the Altar of the Bridal Chamber for the consummation.

That this role, preaching the Lover's words of hurt and of reconciliation to the Beloved in preparation for intimacy, would be played by a mere mortal, given over to some degree to his art and craft, is deeply humbling. So also it is mystical. The Lord works through His men, according to His promise. This is why only those called and ordained should preach. To have a layman preach is like sending your daughter to tell your wife that you'd like her to wear the negligee tonight. It isn't proper.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments on this topic, Pastor Petersen. I enjoyed the catechesis symposium very much, and appreciated, as always, the chance to interact with you and others there. I'm pleased that my thoughts on liturgical preaching prompted further thinking on your part. Thanks for sharing those thoughts here.

    What you have said is a beautiful and helpful way of thinking about the task of a sermon. There's always such a poetry to your way of putting things; which is just great.

    Typical of myself, everything becomes very concrete and of tangible importance when it involves my children ;-) Entrusting my son(s) and daughter(s) to other pastors has not been far different seeing them get married. That is what has prompted me to think carefully about what it is, chiefly, that I want them to be receiving above all else.

    Faithful preaching will lead to the Altar; and the Holy Communion ought not be administered apart from such preaching. For me it is most helpful to think of the preaching, not simply as being situated within the Liturgy, but as a fundamental part of the Liturgy itself. I like to call it "liturgical preaching," in preference to "sacramental preaching," because I don't mean preaching about the Sacrament or about the liturgy, but preaching that actually acts and functions and moves the hearer to and from the font, to and from the Altar. But of course there are various ways to describe these things.

    The important thing, it seems to me, is that the foundation and structure and life of the Church is comprised of: (a) the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; (b) the administration and ongoing daily significance of Holy Baptism; and (c) the giving and pouring out of the body and blood of Jesus to His disciples. And each of these belong to the others; not simply by association, but by an organic connection.


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