¨It is a mistake to sharpen our minds by narrowing them. It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion; the Bible seeks to open one…. The Bible is no oracle to be consulted for specific advice on specific problems; rather, it is a wellspring of wisdom about the ambiguity, inevitability, and insolubility of the human situation…. The Bible makes us comfortable with struggle but uneasy in success…. [The Bible is a signpost, not a hitching post].¨ –William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 7-8
I encountered the above quote in a book on preaching I recently finished reading. The quote expresses most eloquently my understanding of the Bible. As I consult the scriptures in preparation for preaching, I employ Sloane’s approach. My goal in preaching is not to provide answers or hitching posts, but to open the door for further exploration and conversation.
“My goal in preaching is not to provide answers or hitching posts, but to open the door for further exploration and conversation.”
—William Sloane Coffin
The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Cor. 13:12 NRSV) The sharing I do in a sermon is certainly a sincere and authentic effort to impart truth, but I also understand that my grasp of truth is at best foggy. I provide the best that I know, but as Paul indicates, there is yet more to be known. I hope that I inspire and entice those listening to ask questions, dig deeper, and engage in conversation to find nuggets of wisdom and truth still to be discovered.
Preaching, therefore, is not a one-sided function wherein the preacher proclaims and the audience receives. Preaching at its best is interactive. In fact, the interaction of preaching begins in the stages of preparing the sermon for preaching. The preacher knows the audience and offers information that engages the listener at the intersection of their lives and living. How can a certain passage of scripture speak to persons in the congregation, not to answer their questions, but to build momentum to continue the search for more wisdom and truth, to navigate the complexities of ambiguity, inevitability, and insolubility we encounter in the scriptures?
Preaching, in my humble opinion, would be a dull task if the intent was to provide ultimate answers. Preaching as an agency for ongoing dialogue and exploration offers motivation for me to continue frequent sermon preparation because I’m aware that the journey for all of us is incomplete providing opportunity to explore together the depths of that which knows us fully but what we have not yet been able to fully know. I am grateful for the opportunity to be on this journey with you.