Friday, December 3, 2010

Job #1 Is Preaching

The first and foremost thing a pastor is called to do is preach Christ.

Such preaching is faithful when it is a confession of the Word of Christ.

This faithful preaching of Christ is catechetical, because it is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

This faithful preaching of repentance is always sacramental, because it is a preaching to and from the dying and rising of Holy Baptism, to and from the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar.

This sacramental preaching is likewise liturgical, not so much because it is "about the Liturgy," but because it is a fundamental and constitutive part of the Liturgy. As the Holy Communion is the heart of the Liturgy, so is faithful preaching the lungs of the Liturgy.

Everything else the pastor does, in the Liturgy or otherwise, is (or ought to be) a continuation or an echo of his faithful preaching of Christ. Hence, everything the pastor says and does, as well as the way he says and does it, ought to be a faithful confession of Christ and His Word. The pastor also lives liturgically, that is, by repentant faith in the forgiveness of his sins, to and from his Baptism, to and from the Lord's Altar.

So, too, the rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy, in their own way, are to be a faithful preaching of Christ. They should confess His Word. They should catechize the people in repentant faith, that is, in the humility and confidence of the Cross of Christ. They should move to and from the font and the Altar in harmony with the evangelical heart and lungs of the Liturgy.

Where the preaching is not faithful, the rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy will falter along with it; they will fall short and fail to confess Christ, whether they are outwardly extravagant or impoverished. For it is impossible to confess Christ where His Word is not preached.

But where the preaching is faithful, there the rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy will also be lifted up and will rise to the high and holy occasion of Christ in His great high priestly service. Whether in simple or elaborate elegance, the rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy will serve as a reverent and courteous confession of repentant faith in that sacred Word and work of Christ.

Where the lungs and the heart are healthy and working properly together, the body also will live and move in the health and strength of Christ, not only surviving but thriving.


  1. Exactamundo, my friend. I've opined for years that what we have going on is primarily a crisis in preaching rather than in liturgy; the liturgy mess is a consequence of the preaching mess.

  2. Isn't it a feedback loop? Or even a chicken-egg problem?

    Bad preaching-empty liturgy-let's "fix" the liturgy to make it not so empty-preaching gets worse-emptier liturgy. . .

    I concur that poor preaching and empty liturgy go together - but I'm not sure I understand the cause and effect relationship.

    And what of oft-repeated thought that what saved the Medieval Church from the excesses of poor Medieval preaching was in fact the liturgy of the Mass and the Sacraments?


  3. I would posit that you can't set preaching against "the Liturgy," first of all because preaching is a fundamental and definitive part of the Liturgy; and second, because faithful preaching will always lead to and from the Liturgy as a whole, from one week to the next.

    Luther's thought was not that the Medieval Mass saved the Church, but that the practice of infant Baptism saved the Church, even in the midst of the Babylonian Captivity of the Mass.

    But my point is not to set preaching against, nor even above, the Mass. My point is to understand and to express what it is that is essential to the Mass. And I would suggest that one cannot have a faithful Mass, nor a faithful Liturgy, apart from the faithful preaching of Christ: the proclamation of His death until He comes. By the same token, faithful preaching will not be left without the Liturgy, even when the Queen must be content with beggar's rags for a time.

    I'm frankly not sure that we are always conveying what is really at stake, and what it is that makes the Liturgy such a precious and life-giving treasure. In my experience, we have a long way to go in getting past the impression that "the Liturgy" refers to a particular order of service, a particular set of rites and ceremonies, or even a particular style or ambiance of conduct. Those things that are free can surely be received and embraced, and can beautifully serve and support the Liturgy, but that happens only where faith and love are given the freedom of the Gospel. The Liturgy itself, properly speaking, is the preaching of repentance to and from Holy Baptism, to and from the Altar, for the forgiveness of sins and life in Christ. Where that Liturgy is intact, administered and conducted with faithful integrity, the rites and ceremonies that serve and support it, accompany and adorn it, may differ in degree and in kind, without hurting or hindering the Liturgy itself.

    Anyway, I didn't set forth a chicken-egg analogy, but deliberately set preaching and the Holy Communion in a symbiotic relationship with each other, by comparing them to the lungs and the heart of the body, respectively. Unless I'm missing something, that analogy works rather well, in my own not-so-humble opinion. But opinions bear correction, so that is why I welcome feedback and critique.


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