Public speaking is the leading phobia of North Americans. Surveys reveal that giving a speech is three times more fear-inducing than encounters with ghosts, zombies, or creepy clowns. I readily admit that Sundays make me a little edgy because of my speaking responsibilities. When it comes to preaching the Word of God in particular, I have two thoughts that inspire reverent fear and awe. Here they are:
- Wasting people’s time. Years ago I did the math on how much human potential is in the room on Sunday. Here are the facts. If I preach a 30-minute sermon and 800 humans are in the sanctuary at Elmhurst CRC to worship, that computes out to 400 hours of human potential. That’s the equivalent to 10 full-time weeks of work. Whew! A lousy, unhelpful sermon squanders a lot of time.
- Dishonoring God. For some mysterious reason, God’s preferred way of working in the world leans mightily on human freedom. While God has revealed himself in the Old and New Testaments, he chooses to use humans to preach, explain, and share a unique “Word of the Lord” for a particular community Sunday after Sunday. In short, God asks people to speak on his behalf. No pressure!
On a much, much deeper level is the invitation that God offered to Mary of Nazareth. Mary was asked not merely to speak a word, but to bear the Word. Mary was chosen to birth the incarnate, eternal Word of God into the world for the benefit of all humanity.
I am suspicious that Mary was insightful enough to discern the enormous import of God’s invitation as the angel Gabriel conveyed the awesome message that Mary had been chosen to bear the Messiah. Most artistic renderings* of this moment of “annunciation” attempt to capture both Mary’s recognition of the awe of her upcoming responsibility as well as the humility that allowed her to respond: “Let it be unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
A short while later, Mary visited her older cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the boy who’d become John the Baptist. By the time she had arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Mary had composed a song (later named the “Magnificat”) and had somehow exchanged her fear for joy. The first line of her famous song begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
While pastors and preachers routinely share the Word of the Lord with the people of God, Mary of Nazareth fearlessly, joyfully bore the Word of God for all people.
Peace, Courage and Joy to you,
*This rendering of “The Annunciation” is from Fra Angelico, 1446