By Paul Koch –
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2
It seems like it might be good, wonderful even, to live a life without a preacher—without that one who speaks the Law and Gospel into our ears, holds that damned mirror before our eyes, and shows us the vanity of our earthy pursuits. To be without a preacher means I can focus on the here and the now, on what I can see and validate by experience.
As a preacher myself, I can understand. I can see the looks on the faces of people who have gathered together to hear a sermon—the hesitation, disbelief, and curious expressions. You get the feeling that, deep down, they are considering a life without a preacher. It might just be easier, simpler, and more in line with everyone else. I can even sense the reticence when I play cards with the guys and the conversation turns serious for a moment, and people wonder if the preacher is going to start preaching. After all, shouldn’t the cigar smoke and glasses of whiskey keep the preacher at bay?
Yet, I must confess that life without a preacher isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Instead of freedom, it often leaves you unsure of yourself and afraid. Instead of confidence, you are left with confusion. Instead of independent, you are left under a heavy and unshakable burden. And I don’t say this to verify my job or to make myself look more important than I really am; I say it because I live it.
I live a life without a preacher.
I preach. Oh, I love preaching, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to preach to yourself. The preacher is the external Word—the voice declared to you. It rings in your ears. Yet, I will often go for quite a long time without such a Word. I study the Word. I translate, read commentaries and theological arguments, put together Bible Studies, teach Confirmation, craft sermons, etc. But I’m often stuck with an inner monologue.
Without a preacher, I forget the vanity of my own deeds and the limits to their lasting strength. Without a preacher, I measure success the way the world does. Without a preacher, I wonder if my own preaching is enough. I find that, through it all, I get so tired of the ebb and flow of the routine. Week in and week out, I try to bring the Law and all its crushing brutality upon the prideful hearers. I work diligently to proclaim the Gospel in all its sweet assurance and freedom to the brokenhearted sinner. But not much seems to change. Things just roll along, and I look inward for a solution. Life without a preacher can be terrifying, lonely, and lived under a heavy burden.
The preacher is the one who tears apart my vain solutions. The preacher empties me of my own cleverness and “righteousness.” But the preacher doesn’t leave me empty and ashamed. He is the one who fills me with what is truly lasting, what is without end, and what gives meaning a purpose to all that I do, for the preacher fills me with Christ himself. This is what I long for. This is what I desperately need. Life without a preacher is a life without faith that comes by hearing!
If you’ve been given a preacher. Cling to them and treasure them.
If, like me, it has been a while since you’ve received the Word proclaimed to you, then seek it out. The preacher will no doubt reveal all that is vanity, but he will also deliver all that is eternal and sure. For the preacher preaches not himself but the living Word of Christ crucified for you. This is worth fighting for, worth searching out, and worth doing what is necessary to hold on to.
Life without a preacher sucks.