Bishop Will Willimon: Foolish Preaching

Here are some thoughts about the task of cruciform preaching, from my earlier book, A Theology of Proclamation (Abingdon).

Foolish Preaching

The cross is a story about the obedience of Christ, obedience even unto death. A faithful preacher's life will be characterized by obedience to the task of proclaiming a foolish (by the world's standards of wisdom) gospel. Preachers must discipline their lives so that there is no time in the pastoral week when a sermon is not in process, when the pastor is not wrestling with the biblical text and the demands of the congregational context. Preaching is hard work, requiring the cultivation of a host of skills that are difficult to develop. If we are called to preach (and who would take up this task without being called to do it?) then we must be obedient enough to the vocation to work at it. I believe the roots of clerical sloth are theological rather than primarily psychological. We become lazy and slovenly in our work because we have lost the theological rationale for the work.

Yet to take up the cross of Christ, to be willing to assume a yoke of obedience upon our shoulders, oblivious to the praise or blame of our congregations is also the basis of what it means to have life and that abundantly, to live one's life in the light of true glory come down from heaven in the person of Jesus the Christ. As gospel preachers, preaching in the shadow of the cross, we get to talk about something and someone more important than ourselves. We get to proclaim Christ and him crucified, a rebuke to the world's means of salvation, the great promise to a world dying for the truth. We get to expend our lives in work more significant than the lies by which most of the world lives. Working with a crucified God is a great adventure, a risky, perilous, wonderful undertaking that is so much more interesting than mere servility to the wisdom of the world. Every time someone is confronted by the cross of Christ and hears, believes, responds, every time someone is liberated from enslavement to the world's false promises, then the preacher can take great satisfaction that the promises of God are indeed true, that God graciously continues, in us preachers and our sermons, to choose and to use "what is foolish (moria) in the world to confound the wise" (Rom. 1:27).

Will Willimon