Preaching the Good News: Much More To Tell

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, April 2013
– PDF version –

I preach among people longing for change and healing. I have learned a deep and passionate reliance on the Holy Spirit especially in the past eleven years ministering among people where answers elude everyone. Ministering among people in recovery from drugs and alcohol teaches that life cannot be forced or inauthentic. I cannot live another person’s life no matter how I may believe in or desire their talents. I learn among people without a home or shelter that I cannot live too far into the future, because life today is overwhelming and yet so full of grace.

I learn to trust the Word as bread as we all hunger for more.  As a preacher of the Word, I trust in the Holy Spirit to tell us all the truth. The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity begins a series of texts proclaimed on Sundays that stretch us as homilists into a deeper trust that God still feeds us all.  The Holy Spirit is here now, our guide into the heart of the Father’s love.

On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ we hear this human hunger for something more. The people following Jesus were famished and the disciples insisted that they be dismissed in order to find food. Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.” This message is not only about ravenous people on a hillside but for those of us who preach. We are called to take seriously the deep hungers of our people. We are to provide nourishment from our preaching so that love, forgiveness and hope will satisfy their longings. This is the promise that the Spirit has more to say in our day. Preaching becomes bread and food, love and compassion, nourishment and pure grace if our hearts hear first and trust always the Good News.

We preach this Good News, but never in a vacuum. The Gospel is always rooted within the lives of real people. The moral teachings of the Church, biblical exegesis, sacramental theology, and even social justice cannot be the only source of our preaching. Preaching is a dialogue between the Word of God and the reality of people’s lives. This is the place that sparks the Spirit’s healing and satisfies hungry souls. The people of God need to hear from the preacher that their experiences are validated, that their pain is named and that their lives have meaning here on earth. People long to be free of guilt, shame and anger that come from life’s daily grind. The listeners need to recognize their stories of searching in the light of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. The liturgy must always be connected to people and effective preaching bridges the sacred Word to the suffering and anxiousness of our worshipers. Good News heals and sustains.

We hear this Good News proclaimed when the woman from Nain lost her son in death. Jesus passed by and the dead son rose up and he spoke to his mother. This incredible miracle cannot be overlooked nor can the suffering of our people be hidden. We all need to hear the words of Jesus, “Do not weep.” “Young man I tell you to rise.” We not only need to hear these words from Jesus, but we need to encounter the person of Christ for our own lives. Sometimes canned words, stock phrases and quotes from Church documents are easier to rely on than to invest our time and our lives in prayer to discover Christ Jesus, but we need to take the time ourselves to listen.

We listen to the extravagant devotion of a sinful woman who drew near to Jesus at the table of the Pharisee. She approached Jesus weeping. Her tears bathed his feet. She wiped his feet with her hair. She anointed his feet from the expensive ointment in the alabaster jar. This incredible act of intimacy shatters the cultural barriers of their time. Relationship with God and the intimate nature of our prayer shatters in our day the impression that healing is for the well behaved, the moneyed and the well educated.  For those of us who preach, we must spend endless hours at the feet of the One who freed the woman named a sinner. We must imitate her generous spirit, her humble presence and her lavish gift of tears.

Jesus invites all of us, “Follow me.” Like the disciples we come up with all kinds of excuses not to follow the deep, profound path that leads to trust and honesty. Jesus invites us as preachers to never let go of the plow and never turn back. The words that Christ invites us to offer come from years of practice, a life of profound prayer and the courage to speak among people who desperately need God.

The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a deep well, a lasting reserve of trust for preachers. We will never run out of authentic words because we live among people who need God in a new way every day. We will never be short of something to say because we also depend on nothing else but the Holy Spirit every time we proclaim the Gospel and stand amid the assembly as believers and preachers.

 

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