Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How a preacher is different than a cockroach

Last Sunday, as I sat in the chancel, mentally preparing myself to preach, I looked down at the floor and saw a giant cockroach wedged up against the left side of the pulpit. It was lying on its back with its desperate little legs twitching in the air. That lovely image was still in my brain as I climbed into the pulpit and looked out at my congregation. There they were, waiting for a word from the Lord, and I was thinking about a near-dead cockroach.

I had an important message that day. It was all about denying ourselves, taking up a cross and following Jesus. Mind you, this is not something peripheral to the life of faith. For those of us who aspire to live Jesus lives, this is at the center. So why was I feeling like it was totally irrelevant to the lives of the people I was addressing? Most of them weren’t making eye-contact with me, and those who were didn’t seem to be blinking. Hello? Is anybody out there?

The more I talked, the more disconnected I felt. Was it that nobody likes to be reminded about how following Jesus isn’t always fun? Was it that I had preached on this so many times before that they must be tired of hearing it? Was my sermon too academic? Too humorless? Too devoid of honest-to-goodness, real- life examples? Should I have started working on it earlier on the week ? Seriously, while I was talking, all of those thoughts were racing through my mind. I was second-guessing myself and a part of me was wondering if maybe it was time for me to think of taking up another line of work.

Certainly, I don’t preach for the praise. That would be just crazy. But it helps if I can sense some kind of connection with my listeners while I’m putting myself out there. It’s not easy for me to stand before a congregation and presume to know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I feel like such a fake and I wonder if they can all see right through me. Really, why should they listen to me? What do I know? Preaching feeds on all my insecurities. And every once in a while I have a Sunday like this, where I am praying for the proverbial trap door that will both make me disappear from view and put me out of my misery. With each word I spoke, I felt more and more like that cockroach, struggling to survive

I love preaching when I have a fire in my belly. On those Sundays, I can’t wait to step into the pulpit and watch the words fly from my mouth. I’m talking about something that burns within me, something I believe will transform the lives of my listeners. This is like an out-of –the body experience for me. Although I am a terribly self-conscious person, in that holy moment, all I care about is getting the message across as effectively as I can and there is not a self-conscious bone in my body. I have no doubt that there is a God-thing going on. There have been lots of Sundays like that for me. But this was not one of those Sundays.

Finally, I come to the end of the sermon. I leave the congregation with a question, say “Amen” and sit-the-hell down, thinking that’s something I should have done about ten minutes ago. Thank God it’s over.

I looked down and saw no more movement from the cockroach. He died while I was preaching. Just like me. I died while I was preaching, too. Of course, the big difference between us is that I will live to preach again. Maybe that’s why Christian preachers get so worked up over the resurrection. We experience it on a regular basis.

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