I looked forward to chapel when I was a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Unlike being a normal church-goer who hears the same preacher every week, we would hear a dozen or so different preachers over the course of a semester.
But one type of preacher we never heard was a student preacher. I don’t know if it wasn’t allowed or that we just had some wise students during my time at seminary. I know I didn’t ever desire to preach for seminary chapel. In fact, fifteen years later, I don’t desire to go back and preach at seminary chapel. Getting up in front of two dozen theologians and three hundred theologians-in-training and preaching a sermon gives me the willies just to think about it.
My fear is that I wouldn’t be heard. Or that I wouldn’t be listened to. My fear is that I would be judged. That the professors would be sitting there thinking “who does this guy think he is?” and the students would be sitting there thinking “I can do better than that.” I suspect that they would both be correct to think this.
The closest I got to this blood-chilling position was being the liturgist for a seminary chapel during my last year of seminary. I wore my white alb and stood at the lectern leading the office of Morning prayer and reading the appointed Scripture lessons.
After chapel, I was sitting in a class-room waiting for my church history class to begin when the professor came up to me. He half-smiled and said, pointing to my shoes, “We noticed.”
I had made the critical error – to him at least – of wearing brown pants and brown shoes under my alb.
Of all thing things about chapel that one should listen to and notice, my wearing brown instead of black was what this man noticed.
That was 16 years ago. It still sticks with me today.
When I get up to proclaim God’s Word, it still runs in the back of my mind, “What do they hear?” “Do they hear what I’m saying?”
If you went to worship this past weekend, did you hear what the preacher said?
Jesus had this problem as well.
2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2-3 ESV)
For me, there are two things I need to keep in mind. One is that I’m human but I can take steps to not distract people when I preach. I can be “clean” (well-groomed, teeth brushed, etc). Two, I can live my life so that won’t be a distraction either.
The problem I have is that I haven’t always lived my life so its not a distraction. That’s why I could never preach in front of my old professors. They know me too well.
Somewhat ironically, though, is that I would have no problem preaching in front of people who know me even better – like my long-time friends. They’ve seen me at my worst as well as at my best. Yet they still love me and they don’t let that distract them from what I preach about.
Because what I preach about is the love of God that He has for us in Christ Jesus. This message of life and love goes so far beyond who I am that people who know me best hear the message instead of getting hung-up on the messenger.