“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen.” ~Ezekiel 2:7
My preaching just got a whole lot better. Members of the Legacy church will be especially pleased to know that I’m a much better preacher today than when I last posted on this blog. The annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Graduate School of Theology will do that to a guy.
Sitting at the feet of Rubel Shelly as he graced us with his knowledge and insights into our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount and encouraged us to empty ourselves and truly live into what God intends for us as his children. Listening to Paul Watson as he walked us through the words of judgment and grace in Ezekiel and challenged us to preach both. Soaking up my great friend Jim Martin’s wisdom and experience as he taught from 2 Corinthians and inspired us to rely solely on our God as we minister in our churches. Feverishly taking notes as Jim Reynolds carried us from Genesis to Malachi, painting a portrait of our God and his people, a breathtaking picture of love and mercy and grace, and begged us to preach the story. It was, as somebody observed halfway through the first day, like getting a drink from a fire hose. It was so much. Almost too much.
I heard a few jokes. I picked up several preaching pointers. I gathered lots of sermon ideas and outlines and illustrations. All those things are going to make me a better preacher. But here’s the thing that matters; this is what’s important:
For three days in Austin I was reminded by some of the best preachers and teachers of preachers in our fellowship that our sermons do not belong to us. Our sermons are the holy words of our mighty God. My ideas, my stories, my words, my thoughts are inadequate and empty. The world is too messed up, it’s in too much trouble. I bring nothing to the table. I’ve got nothing to offer. It’s God. God’s holy words and God’s holy will. His grace and his mercy and his love. His presence and guidance and encouragement. It’s God. I’m speaking for God.
This preaching thing is not a career. It’s not a profession. It’s a calling. It’s a sacred calling. Preachers are not hired and fired; they are not applicants or candidates. We don’t update resumes or climb any corporate ladders. We work for our Father. Everything we do, we do for him.
If the whole church applauds in approval after my sermon this Sunday but God is not pleased, I have not fulfilled my calling. If the whole church scowls in disapproval but God is delighted, I have done what he is calling me to do.
The Austin Grad Sermon Seminar always re-centers me. It re-focuses me. It pulls me back to the proper understandings and views that get so easily distorted or sometimes even lost in the swirling mess that is church life and church meetings and church politics and church business. It reminds me of who I am as a powerful proclaimer of the great news of salvation from God in Christ. And it reminds me that I work for the God who created me and equips me and empowers me to speak his words — whether anybody’s listening or not — and he guarantees those words will not return to him empty.
Thank you to Stan Reid and the whole Austin Grad staff. Thank you to Rubel, Paul, and First & Second Jim. Thank you to Eddie Sharp who planned all our worship times. Thank you to my great friend Jason Reeves for his company and his encouragement and for not bringing his smelly Corn Nuts into my truck. Thank you to Jim Gardner and Jimmy Mitchell for the prayers in our hotel rooms and the gut-laughs during our meals. And thank you to our mighty God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, for calling me to preach the Word.