A father and his young daughter are walking the aisles of their neighborhood grocery store—picking up some items for the weekend. Chips and dip. Soda. Fajitas and tortillas. Ice Cream. Essentials. Just a few more items left on the list. They round the corner and, lo and behold, it’s the father’s coworker whose son goes to school with his daughter. They stop as the two men strike up a conversation. Oh, hey, how are you? Doing well, and you? Keeping busy. After a couple minutes of niceties, the one begins asking a bunch of questions about the other’s daughter—yet never directly addressing the young girl herself, who remains standing there three feet away the entire time. So is your daughter going to try out for the basketball team? How’s she like Teacher So-and-So? What’s her plans for the summer—anything fun? It’s as if she’s a ghost, or perhaps he’s so consumed in speaking that he fails to see her out of the corner of his eye. Nonetheless, she’s not hidden or out of sight. Is this sexism at work? Does it represent the his inherent bias? Either way, an uncomfortable triangle fills the public space there along that aisle—one person talking to the other about yet another who is present but for some reason unacknowledged. After what feels like an hour of droning interrogation, the annoyed father chimes in unapologetically: Well, why don’t you just ask my daughter about all of this—she actually speaks for herself.
Pastor, great sermon! Thank you for speaking on the issues. This and other such comments met me on the way out of the sanctuary this past Pentecost Sunday following worship. Honestly, I was surprised by all of the affirmation I received on my sermon. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching it, but never could have imagined the response many would give towards it. Eager to try something different, I focused on Genesis 11:1-5, The Tower of Babel, to offer an alternative narrative on the high holy day. In my opinion, it gets tiring hearing the same (often gospel) texts preached on festival days each year—our scripture is more than just four books. In preparation, I was amazed to learn how the message of this story is much different than how we often misunderstand it. Instead of being about human ingenuity inciting God’s divine punishment—bringing a prideful people back down to the ground; it rather speaks to the Lord’s intent to create and spread diversity over the face of the earth. This leads me to believe that God is not only responsible for the wide variety of ethnicities, creeds, orientations, genders, etc. we encounter daily throughout the world—but is also present within them each as they all reflect the image of God. If you disagree, you can accuse me of eisegesis, that’s fine—not the first time I’ve heard it. But the text speaks for itself! The truth is (at the risk of sounding unnecessarily defensive): nothing I wrote and spoke in that sermon was about addressing contemporary issues or countering current public discourse—I merely sought (and hope) to be a mouthpiece for the Spirit to speak God’s Word in and through me.
When it comes to reading scripture and preaching, the Holy Spirit speaks for herself. If ever I, as pastor, or we all, as the community of faith, lose sight of this we relegate the Advocate—who leads and guides us, giving us the gift of faith, and gathering us together into the lap of Christ—to the kids’ table (horrible metaphor, but true) to be seen but not heard. At best, er most faithful, I serve to be a vessel—facilitating a space and inviting others in to hopefully hear the Spirit speaking truth in and through me. The voice and accompanying hand flailing are mine, but the breath that comes out and the words that are formed from it are given to me by the Spirit. This is not to say that everything I utter is without sin. By no means. Lord knows I’ve preached some pretty poor sermons—ones that missed the message of God’s forgiveness and love, or elevated myself in one way or another at the expense of pointing towards Christ. The preacher who cannot confess this is ultimately preaching themselves as the center. Reading scripture and preaching, I believe, are always a dance that we are invited into with the lead of our partner, the Spirit. Sometimes, we remain sitting along the side—scared or pridefully blind to the Spirit’s encouragement to come out onto the floor. Other times, we get out there but fail to follow in sequence or step all over her toes with misunderstanding and a lack of grace. When the words of a sermon are heard and received—striking a note of meaning and relevance within oneself—it has less to do with the preacher, their competence, or skill, and more about a respect and acknowledgement towards the Holy Spirit speaking for herself. When we try to talk for her, we find ourselves out in the left field of idolatry—disregarding both God and the world around us. When you affirm a preacher (thank you), keep in mind that it is hopefully the Spirit speaking in and through them. Let her speak for herself.
– Pastor Andrew