I've been reflecting on preaching, following this morning's service. Here's why.
We've been working our way through Nehemiah over the last 6 weeks at one of my churches - not really long enough to do it full justice, but we were able to look at some of the main themes as we flew through. This week we reached the end, and the reading was Chapter 13. As is our custom one of our ladies had been asked to read the passage, and she approached me before the service to say that she's been reading through the chapter in preparation and had found it a really difficult passage. She really didn't like what Nehemiah had done at all, but was looking forward to hearing what I would make of it.
I have to admit that I had struggled in preparation with some of the themes in the chapter. The idea of banning inter-marriage with the neighbouring peoples resonated for me with David Cameron's recent speech about multi-culturalism, particularly verse 24 which speaks of the children not being able to speak the language of the country in which they live. Perhaps I 'bottled out', because I chose not to tackle these issues head-on, but instead looked at the underlying reasons why Nehemiah acted as he did - the holiness of God and of God's people.
What is it we are trying to do in preaching? There are some who try and tease out every nuance of every word of every verse, and there is a need for that at times. There are those who seek to elucidate the grand themes of Scripture, and look for their evidence in whatever passage they are considering, and there is a need for that at times. There are those who seek to find the contemporary relevance of Scripture to today's world, and there is certainly a need for that. And there are those who seek to help themselves and others as they struggle with God's word and those actions by God and God's people that are recorded there that seem to grate in today's culture.
The Word of God is alive and active, and therefore it needs to be wrestled with, not just in the study, but in the pulpit too. It will never be tamed, but as we struggle with it we may begin to understand more fully what God is saying to us through it, and its relevance in today's world - so different in some ways, and so similar in others, from the world in which the Scriptures were written. Through those struggles we will begin to glimpse the 'big picture', the grand themes of grace, salvation, forgiveness and holiness, and see how they can transform our lives, and to do so we may have to mine deep to unearth to real treasures that lie within.
This, I think, is starting to get at the role of the preacher, as one who walks alongside us, and the Holy Spirit as we listen for God's word today through God's word written and preached.
And the lady who'd read the passage for us went home a little happier, and understanding a little more, than when she came. Maybe it was worthwhile.