A Preacher’s Paradox

praying hands - sculpture

Wringing his heart in prayer-wept hands
(the blood of this his weekly, willing martyr’s-moment
rising to the surface;
a sign confirming
to make straight God’s pathway;(1)
to get out of God’s way!)
he strives to give earthly-shape to the
he has heard
through the voice of the Spirit;
longingly searching, lovingly scripting,
(alway à la the Barthian maxim)(2)
mere words that
(though naked, empty vessels worldly;
again praying they be filled with grace heavenly;
in this, hoping, again praying
that though necessarily colored by his experience;
inescapably painted, tainted by his ego,
through the continuing clarifying,
converting, correcting
labor of the same Spirit)
will illumine Truth that will set folk, yea, himself, free
to be
God’s holy ones.

Glenda McQueen's Ordination, Bocas del Toro, Panama

(1) I consider it a chiefest paradox (my definition: Something that, at first glance, makes little sense, but which, at its heart, embraces truth) that a preacher, a mere mortal, can stand, dare stand with fellow mortals, saying, “Thus, saith the Lord”, yet the testimony of Scripture is that the Lord oft speaks through human (thus, essentially, imperfect) agents.
(2) A reference to Isaiah 40.3, the prophet’s call to Israel in Babylonian Captivity to prepare for the coming of God’s liberation; generations later, repeated by John the Baptizer (John 1.23), summoning the people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
(3) A reference to Karl Barth (1886-1968), a Swiss Reformed theologian oft regarded as one of (perhaps) the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century, who once wrote: Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both, but interpret newspapers from your Bible. Over the years, this saying, considered sage counsel to preachers, has been abridged, thusly: The preacher must preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Either way, I have understood this to mean (1) that the sermon is the product of the dialogue between sacred living text and present living history and (2) that present living history is to be viewed and understood through the lens of the sacred living text’s narrative of God’s creative and salvific activity.

Photo: Taken at the Ordination to the Priesthood of the Reverend Glenda McQueen, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Colón, Bocas del Toro, Panama, October 1, 2004. I love this picture of me (not merely because my hair was still brown!), for it depicts, as one of my mentors observed, “A preacher in the moment of making a emphatically expositive point.”

3 thoughts on “A Preacher’s Paradox

  1. Paul!!
    Wow, giving earthly-shape to words! There are few better than you with a pen in your hand or a computer at your fingertips! Your words shape people, including even yourself I guess… AND when those words are coupled with your voice people are not only shaped, but MOVED to action too!! I look forward to whatever you’re going to say next so that I can be ready to act and respond. Your words keep me motivated and focused and I’m certainly not the only one. As you always tell me, Carry On!!

    Much Love!!


  2. Truth is, Loretta, this bit of poetry reflecting on the craft of sermon writing arose from our conversation yesterday about your preaching during the coming Lent. The more I thought about what I shared with you concerning the Lenten lections, the more I consciously considered what I do each week (and have done for years, which is to say, so long that the pattern of preparation in embedded in my bones). Thank you for helping it to come to the surface that I might meditate anew on my process. Love

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is awesome!!! As swamped as I’ve been today I’m so thrilled I saw this!!! None of us really know what it’s like for our Rector to put together a fabulous sermon each week!! Now to read that you’re reflecting on your process makes me feel great!! It’s always beneficial to reflect on how we do things and why we do them that way! Reflection can be so good for the soul!!


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