Preaching From Failure
I preach sometimes.
I don’t know if that makes me a “preacher”, but on occasion, sure enough, I do preach in churches from a pulpit. I know the responsibility of doing it, and I don’t bear it lightly. I know the people who ask me to come preach, and I think they feel they know me well enough to trust the words that stumble from my lips.
All that to say again, I preach sometimes.
The bigger question that I ask myself is, why do I preach?
The short answer is my old pastor recognized something in me. A talent or a maybe a calling that translated into me speaking specific Law/Gospel type words that a large, or not-so-large group of people on a Sunday might somehow find something good, encouraging, or relatable in them for themselves. I’ve been doing it about three or four years now, and it still feels abnormal for me to walk up a step or two, stand in front of a pulpit before a congregation and have them for twenty or minutes or so, (semi) hang onto every word I’m saying.
But… why do I preach?
My Pastor has moved on, and away. I could certainly say no when someone asks me to cover for a day. But I don’t. In fact, I make it a point to let them know I’m always available if they need another break. It’s the one calling, I’m sure I have. I like to be a help where and when help is needed. I still get nervous, anxious, and uncomfortable. I still practice a sermon three times in the days leading up to it, so I can be sure to speak clearly, with conviction, and hopefully with a little compassion and soul thrown in.
I wonder sometimes, do I do this because they pay me?
I do believe that a worker deserves his wages, and the more I preach, the more wages I get. But I’m a guy who circles the New York City area roughly sixty miles around to serve in four or five different churches. Most of them are smaller congregations, and half the money goes back in my gas tank.
Maybe, I do it because in that one moment, all eyes are on me.
When I’m preaching in that moment, I’m somehow important to someone, maybe even a few more people then that. I get handshakes and congratulations all around afterwards. But to be honest, I tend to feel the weight of preaching in a church, the importance of encouraging the body of Christ. It feels a bit weird to be congratulated. I mean, I just spent twenty to twenty-five minutes talking about Jesus.
So back to the question, why do I preach?
It’s not money or self-importance, but there is a reason, or at least I think this is a partial reason.
It’s past failure.
Failure to be a Gospel-bearer.
There was a time I bought in to the same old churchy rhetoric of making Christianity about looking better, feeling better, being successful in all you do.
It’s a load of… well, you know.
Back then, I just did what most people did, I dug out a mask from the church’s lost and found and put it on. The mask smelled rotten. It reeked of all the sins and shame of the previous wearer. The stench of sin from the last owner trapped inside, before they took it off and left, never to return.
I’d add my own, but at least I’d look the part in all the outside places.
By the time I discarded it, the damage was done. I know better now, but because of that, I know I should’ve been a better husband and father. It’s my deepest regret, and as much as I know it is forgiven at the cross, it will be with me till the day I die.
Being a better anything, doesn’t mean best behavior, it means I should’ve been a better Gospel-bearer.
I should have loved with as much as I was able to, and apologized the times I failed. I should have reminded them of what’s good behavior, but then do it in a bracket of grace and mercy so they knew it was ok to make mistakes, even really bad ones.
Instead, I gave them, “God expects the best behavior, no excuses”, even as I was failing at this on my own many times, but it was ok, because the mask was on. I didn’t allow grace to cover mistakes, I allowed the heavy hand of the law to keep hammering.
I learned too late that, that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Why do I Preach?
Because God desires mercy, and not sacrifice. He desires that you know him more than any payment or offering.
I preach when people give me the opportunity to, because I don’t want people to make the same mistakes I made, and think God’s main purpose for you is to make you behave right. If that was the main purpose, Jesus wouldn’t have had to live for you.
We know he had to die for you, …for me. We know he needed to pay for our transgressions, and he did that at the cross. But he also needed to live for us, so when the slate was wiped clean at Calvary, they would be something else to fill the ledger. From the first page to the last.
Because of that, we receive a constant influx of mercy and grace in our lives. We are his, and because of that, we never move past the “well done good and faithful servant” it is a shield against our worst transgressions. Even the newest ones.
It’s not an excuse to sin as the legalists love to say, as they try to shout down this unrelenting grace. It’s an excuse to admit to sin, to be honest about our regular condition of living in a state of “still sinner and still saint.” It’s an opportunity to be humbled and comforted.
I didn’t hear this nearly as much as I should have from some of my old churches. Sometimes we get more worked up in trying to fix a problem, then forgiving a problem.
Me too, even still.
So why do I preach?
First, because they let me. An act of undeserved grace upon me, you can be sure. Second, because they let me preach the FULL GOSPEL. The full Gospel is the good news that clears the ledger, then cooks the books for me, and I am grateful. It’s the full Gospel that lets grace cover the cracks in your law-keeping.
We are all undoubtedly, broken by the law. Whether it manifests outwardly, or we internalize it, and I will go down to the grave believing every person, Christian or not, understands this, even if they don’t acknowledge it or try their best to ignore the truth of it.
For as long as a church will let me, I will preach from atop this hill.
I will remind them that God loves them, that God forgives them, that Jesus died for them, and Jesus LIVED for them, and that life lived for them is a “well done, good and faithful servant” acceptance letter that welcomes them to the new and greater home of God’s presence.
I pray I never lose sight of that.
That’s why I preach.
In light of all of that, given the opportunity, how could I not?
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