Somewhere along the way of my early career in ministry, it dawned on me that the central task of preaching is simply to tell the truth. Actually, to tell the truth twice. The first truth is the truth of our lives. Our hopes and disappointments, our accomplishments and set backs, our dreams and fears. What matters is that it is true - deeply, candidly, courageously true.
The second truth is God's truth - the truth of God's unrelenting mercy, grace, goodness and love. The truth of God's acceptance of us just as we are. The truth of God's profound and sacrificial love made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Both of these truths matter; indeed, are intimately related. Think about our everyday life. The one thing we want more than anything is to be loved and accepted for who we are. But unless you're completely honest about who you are, you can never be sure your beloved actually loves you as you are, and not just the person you're pretending to be or trying to be or have promised to be. But if you show yourself, if you allow yourself to be known - warts and all - then your beloved may very well discover he or she doesn't love you. Because the truth is that we all do have warts. Each one of us is a combination of virtue and vice, courage and cowardice, glory and shame, good and evil. And we're afraid to show that, afraid that if we're completely honest we may be found unacceptable. Which is what makes vulnerability so hard, as it at least permits, if doesn't just plain invite, the possibility of rejection.
Which is where the second truth comes in. For in Jesus we see that God does not reject us but, indeed, accepts us, loves us, cherishes us...enough to die for us. Without the first truth you can't believe the second. Without the second truth we can't overcome the anxiety of the first.
This means that preaching, above all else, has to be real. Or, as my friend and colleague Andy Root says, the sermon needs to bleed. It needs to bleed the same blood that we bleed, the same blood of hopes and fears that courses through each one of us, including the preacher. Only in this way, as Andy shares, will the sermon matter - to the preacher...or to us.
So watch Andy's video, give some thought to the recent sermons you've heard or preached, and ask what it was that you most appreciated about them. My guess was that one of the consistent elements of the best sermons you've heard was that they told you the truth, the truth about ourselves and about God, a truth made manifest in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ and proclaimed again through the blood, sweat, and tears of preachers the land over.