Tonight all I was given were looks of boredom. Granted it may have been unintentional, just the uncomfortable facial expressions of teenagers sitting in a muggy room. And I know how torturous that can be (especially when it’s amazing sunny out). Like trying to crank out math problems - or anything with a fair amount of mental strain - in a stuffy room. My palms are sweaty just thinking of it.
So, if I am to perfect this art, this calling, called preaching I need not be easily influenced by looks that say to me, “Ugh, why are you talking?” or “I’m bored, entertain me!” or “You just keep repeating yourself” - yawn. These are only my interpretations, though some may be right. But let’s be optimistic for a moment. Who me?
What if even one teenager out of those ten, sitting in the shape of a horseshoe in front of me, experienced something profound? Wait, is that too optimistic? Ok, what if one teenager learned one thing that’s going to stick with her for the next week? (God, at least one week!) Or what if just one is convicted and experiences grace, or freedom or some other divine gift that opens him up to love God more properly? I mean, who knows what could be going on underneath those crimpled faces, in the dark unknown of their souls, that in the moment test everything I am made of.
Driving home I had an idea to take a bunch of close-up photos of people’s bored and tired faces, print them out and pin them up somewhere, maybe on the wall of my room and practice preaching to them throughout the week to hopefully someday overcome the feelings these faces stir within me. I feel this could actually help.
I’d rather stand in front of a hundred people or a thousand. I’m not just saying that. A few years ago I preached during chapel at college on fearing God from Job 29. A couple hundred were present. Times like this the individuals coalesce and I only see a hunk of bodies, a giant mass. It’s as if their gazes are lost on me. But when there’s twenty or fifteen or ten the dynamic shifts dramatically with eyes afire acutely penetrating all I am.
Preaching has always assumed courage. Just getting up there can be daunting, especially following that awkward silence after the last worship song. But this is it. The call to preach is a call to courage, to heart, to stiffness of character. We pray and hope and believe that somehow the Holy Spirit embeds conviction, encouragement and freedom in our shaky words that die when fallen upon tender soil to usher new life, something that wasn’t there before, something which at first is remarkably small.