This is the second part of the seminar I gave at the St. Michael Conference at Redeemer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, last month. It is not a finished paper, only lecture notes.
II. Thesis: The Word of God is the power of God. This is not a mere cliché. It is something which, if truly believed, will free the celebrant/ preacher from the temptation to warm things up, or provide some element of his own personality as though to help the hearer. To seek to add your own personality is actually the height of arrogance. If you believe you must “love people to Jesus” by using gestures and carrying yourself in a way which has you coming off more like Uncle Remus than as a herald of Christ, your body language will betray what you really believe.
On the other hand, there is the temptation to think that the divine service is not really the heart of divine activity, and those who fall victim to it will spend less time on the things that pertain to it. There ought to be a sense of awareness that while at worship we are in the presence of the Most High God. The lintels are shaking, smoke fills the room, and the hot coal of God’s Word is on our tongue. It is by the posture that corresponds to this thinking that we come to attention, as it were, and are readied to hear the words of divine mercy in Christ.
The celebrant need not think he has to turn and face the people every time he says something to them. This is probably the most common breach of the rubrics. For instance, at the Thanksgiving, the celebrant’s versicle “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good” is said while facing the altar. This attention to detail gives the impression to the hearers that the celebrant is attending to something other and greater than himself.
St. Paul to Titus (chapter 2):
"In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. . . . For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
What does this mean? It is reminiscient, I believe, of what was said about Jesus at the end of the sermon on the mount: Jesus taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes (St. Matthew 7.21).
But again, what does this mean? We know a little about how the scribes taught. The synagogues had as the equivalent of sermons what was called “midrash”; this term was also used for the marginal commentaries running alongside the texts. These midrash ‘sermons’ were likely explanations of the passages. A possible interpretation of Jesus’ teaching “not as the scribes” is that Jesus’ preaching was not like this. That is, He did not simply provide explanations of the Bible. This is a remarkable twist: The scribes taught as ones not having authority, because the authority to which they referred was the Scripture. For Jesus to teach unlike them may then have meant that He was himself the authority. He certainly referred to the authority of Scripture often, and refuted His opponents thereby, as for instance when He referred to Psalm 110 “The Lord said unto my Lord” in referring to Himself, etc. But He did not use the Scriptures primarily to prove His point; rather, to provide support for it, or to illustrate it.
The same may be said of St. Paul. Consider Galatians 4, that enigmatic section about Sarah and Hagar:
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free."
The last reference is the most remarkable, because if you look at the Scripture being referenced there, it is actually something coming from the mouth of Sarah, who is simply complaining to her husband about Hagar. Wherever does St. Paul get the audacity to say that this is the Scripture saying it? Note: He is not proof-texting; he is referencing the passage, in order to illustrate rather than prove his point.
To be sure, the Scriptures can and sometimes are adduced to prove something, but the ultimate apostolic authority is Christ Himself, who ordained them to repeat and teach His own words. Consider St. Luke 24:
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
The power from on high is not a reference to some new understanding which their ordination gave them; for that came from Jesus Himself in His personal teaching of them. Rather it must be a reference to the accompanying signs that authenticate their authority (dynamin); cf. the last verse of St. Mark (16:20): And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
There is, of course, a difference between an apostle and an ordinary preacher. The apostle has the imprimatur of Jesus, e.g., from His high priestly prayer, that his preaching could not be in error (St. John 17:17-18: Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.)
But there is also a common thread of authority between them. The apostolic opening of understanding is also available to us who believe through their word (St. John 17: 20: Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word).
Thus we have St. Peter exhorting the preachers thus (I Peter 4.11): “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,” i.e., as though God Himself were speaking.
When St. Paul speaks of his own preaching, he speaks also of the apostolic preaching by any pastor: “So We Preached, and So Ye Believed.” - I Co 15.11. Preaching is the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma, from kerysso, preach). It is declarative. It is ultimately Gospel, not law. It is the announcement that Christ has come, and fulfilled the Scriptures, bringing eternal salvation.
The sermon is the Word of God not man. It must be preached as such.
Not only the hearers, but the preachers themselves should not despise preaching. The hearers should gladly hear and learn it, but the preachers should also gladly learn to do it.