Preaching is an act of worship, the same as every other component of the worship service. Any kind of arrangement that isolates the sermon from the rest of the worship service loses preaching’s primary focus: the worship of God. Such isolation is often accented by a practical message directed to the need of the moment rather than the glory of God. The aim of preaching, as David Peterson states, “Is to provoke acceptable worship in the form of prayer, praise and obedience, in the church and in the context of everyday life.”1
The focus of worship in the book of the Revelation is the Lamb, the Redeemer of humankind. Redemption is the theme of worship in song, creed, Scripture, prayer, preaching, and benediction. Every worship service reenacts the Christological drama of death and resurrection, the acts of Christ that offer salvation to humankind. The sermon announces that Christ is risen, he is alive, and he is presently available to the thirsty, hungry, and empty. Preaching is a liturgical act among other liturgical acts, the certain sound that all are included and can avail themselves of the benefits of the Lamb slain for all who desire freedom from bondage.
The interactive nature of preaching, the dialogue between proclaimer and participant in worship, should preclude preaching as a virtuoso performance complemented by polite parishioners. In “Blood Sacrifice,” Dorothy Sayers characterized Garrick Drury, the lead actor in a play, as a man with all the right theatrical gestures even at the door of death. The last words he utters are, “‘Brand! Fetch Brand! The curtain must go up!’ Garrick Drury’s death was very good theater.”2 Preaching preluded by the “curtain going up” undermines, if not completely destroys, its spiritual essence. Preaching honors Christ, not as the main event, but as part of a seamless flow, thematically placed within the worship service, connected to what has gone before and what will come after. Richard Lischer states, “When it disregards its liturgical matrix, preaching becomes the individualistic, virtuoso performance with which many Protestants are familiar and thereby diminishes both itself and the church.”3 All of us ego-starved preachers need to hear and rehear John Henry Jowett’s admonition against self-glorification:
Yes, men admire, but they do not revere; they appreciate, but they do not repent; they are interested, but they are not exalted. They say, “What a fine sermon!” not, “What a great God!” They say, “What a ready speaker!” and not, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”4
Can the commonness of an ordinary person, standing in an ordinary pulpit, in an ordinary church, on an ordinary Sunday make a difference in an ordinary person’s life? I suspect so if the prayer for each sermon is: “God, will you make your presence known?” Once in a while, some antiquated, anticipatory soul mistakenly believes that he or she wants to see and hear a preacher. If that is God’s perennial means for him to make himself known, so be it. But even better yet is the preacher who keeps in mind the intention of the Greeks who stated 2,000 years ago, “We would see Jesus” (John 12:21, KJV). The promise is: “And I, if I be lifted up . . . , will draw all [people] unto me” (v. 32, KJV). Visual preaching in a day of mass media prays the prayer of the old Irish melody:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art— Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.5
Darius L. Salter was formerly director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Nazarene Theological Seminary and is now the Director of Ministry Coordination and Development for New Fields Ministries, Inc.
Copyright © by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2923 Troost, Kansas City, MO 64109. Used by permission of the Publisher. All rights reserved. “Preaching as Worship” is taken from Preaching as Art: Biblical Storytelling for a Media Generation, 2008.
1 Peterson, David. Engaging with God: Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 153.
2 Sayers, Dorothy L. The Complete Stories (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2002), 743.
3 Lischer, Richard. A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel (Durham, N.C.: The Labyrinth Press, 1992), 27.
4 Jowett, John Henry. The Preacher and His Life and Work (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1912), 98.
5 Bible, Ken, ed. Sing to the Lord (Kansas City: Lillenas Publishing Company, 1993), 460.