There can be no off days. There are no times when a preacher can just mail it in, saying, “I’ve covered this all before. I’ve said it all before. Perhaps this once, we’ll do something different. Perhaps, this Sunday I will take the opportunity to lay out a vision for the future of this congregation. Perhaps, this time I will get creative and show my prowess for finding the hidden connections of a particular text and how they matrix with the greater Scriptures. Perhaps, I won’t worry so much proclaiming the Word. Just this once, I won’t focus so much on the distinction of Law and Gospel and instead I’ll give some good lessons for reading the Word at home.”
The temptation to preach something other than Christ crucified is a constant battle. Not that we are tempted to give it up all together, of course. The temptation is to assume that you have it covered; the good stuff has been done somewhat recently (perhaps just last week), so you are free for at least one Sunday to do something different. But the preacher must not give in to this temptation. He must not choose a different task or allow the Gospel to become mute.
The preacher may become bored with what he is doing. The preacher may think it is tedious to find new and creative ways to proclaim the same old story. The preacher may have a million other things on his mind, other concerns that distract from the task at hand. Even so, he must not change course. He dare not get comfortable with his situation and spend his time making alliances rather than killing and bringing forth new life with the Word of God.
A preacher must stand always ready, always engaged, always cognizant that there is no discharge in the war. In this war, he possesses the only weapons that will prove effective.
The church remains a place that gathers individuals from all walks of life. You never know who will be there and what they are going though at that time. You have no idea what drove a stranger through the doors of the church that morning. Hell, you don’t even know what struggles lurk within the hearts and minds of those who show up Sunday after Sunday. You may be basking in the glow of a well-articulated Gospel sermon the week before, but today George has trudged in with a back full of the accusatory arrows of Satan. Today is the day that he finds himself on the precipice, not sure if he can go on, not sure if he should bother, not understanding why he is even sitting in the pew today. He is caught in a war, a horrible and constant battle without release this side of the return of Christ. Yet, he has come to the one place he hopes to find a way through it all.
We cannot possibly know all the struggles and challenges that plague those gathered in church on a Sunday morning. But we do know what St. Paul said about being saint and sinner, about being always at war. To the church in Rome he wrote, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:21-24)
There is no discharge in the war, no end to the cry of those caught up in the battle. And those caught in this battle are each and every brother and sister in Christ. The Gospel must be proclaimed, over and over again. Tirelessly, eagerly, drudgingly, creatively, well-rehearsed and articulately or clumsily and simply; it must echo from the pulpit. There must be one who will repeat the assuring and life-giving words of Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25) Thanks be to God that there is his death, his resurrection, his promise for you.
Now let’s get back to the front lines.