A Jagged Contention: The Divine Human Word

A sermon, if it is a true sermon, takes up [the name of God and promise “I am the Lord, your God!”] and hands it on as a “proclaimable mystery” (according to Luther’s translation of 1 Tim. 3:16). This is not a mystery to be kept secret but one to be “proclaimed,” to be preached. It is a public mystery, and open secret. By proclaiming God’s name, the sermon is, by God’s will, his presence itself. Preachers deliver a message and are not the message themselves. But insofar as they speak “in the name of God the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” their human words are identical with the divine word, indeed, “they are on and the same.” For “whoever listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16; see 2 Cor. 5:20). IF in the name of God human beings preach God’s name, if they publicly, audibly, clearly, and intelligibly offer God’s promise of salvation to other people, then such a sermon, although it is a human word, is not only a pointer to God’s own word (like the extra long index finger of John the Baptist in Grunewaldt’s picture of the crucifixion on the Isenheim altar), but it is God’s own word itself. It is astonishing and highly offensive to a spiritualistic doctrine of God that God gives and forgives through human mouths and other creaturely means, such as the water of baptism.

– Oswald Bayer, Preaching the Word in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson. Pgs. 207-208


Why does this extraordinary doctrine of preaching offend so many and cause other’s to fear? What would it do to our preaching if pastors actually embraced the promise of Jesus that when “they hear you they hear me”? What sort of freedom does this promise give to the hearer?

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