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preaching when you know it’ll hurt – andy shudall

11-Leonard-Ravenhill

What to do when the text before you will wound the people who will sit and stand to listen to you? You know it will provoke pain in those of tender consciences. You are sure it will touch the raw nerves of the recently grieved and provoke the ire in the permafrost of resentment that imprisons the intractably disappointed. You are certain that this gobbet of God’s own breath in ink on page will blow hard into many lives and will cause pain at its first airing in the sermon.

There it sits in front of you on page and screen. Not a controversial text, not in and of itself, but explosively direct: inescapable in clarity, without convenient mitigation in textual or cultural obfuscation and resolutely core to the passage for preaching.

You could completely omit it – just this one phrase – claim naivety and blunder past it, mustering as much grace as can be gathered in the graceless act of robbing the tower of London of the crown jewels and rendering Scripture silent, empty and irrelevant. Where pulpit and Bible are relics of a bygone age but are unable to enrich a Lazarus or arrest a Midas but you will be free of charge and able to leave church unhassled and unfazed by having grieved others.

You may relativise it – find obscurity and overwhelm with details and dogma, throw the context so wide that by contrast that which is most clearly in focus becomes like a grain of sand on the shore of translation difficulties and scholarly disagreements. Thus make dull that which shines brightest and leave the text unspoken; what is said with plain tongue, unarticulated. The deaf will not hear, the blind will not see, prisoners remain prisoners but you at least will not have injured any.

You have it in your power to soften it – to upholster Scripture’s sharp edge and make from the most precise scalpel a comfortable sofa, where all may sit and none may bleed and so go into each day, and eventually eternity, comforted and comfortable but unchanged and unsaved but you will stand down from preaching with an unburdened heart and rest well comforted by comforting those that could be healed by a well-placed wound.

You can also take care to speak the Word – and speak it well – use scholarship to display and celebrate its riches, context to brighten its luminous power and skill to hone its surgical blade. With the ruthless compassion of the shepherd, aiming wounds to free the bonds which restrict and to release the festering habits and long held resentments.

As preacher you can wound, so wound well – not as some callous wolf who seeks to devour but as an approved worker who loves those she addresses; as a servant seeking to honour his master; as a mother tending her son; as a father upbraiding the wayward child – for their good and for His Glory; He will heal where He has hurt.

Do not fear when Scripture’s textual blade also turns on your own life and you are tempted to tarnish the gold, obscure the light and steal the sting to preserve your own illusion of comfort. Repent and believe for He is Good and it is His glory that He has hidden in your heart – be wounded and be healed through the God who preaches His final Word in His own Son, the wounded, healing, living but once dead, sacrificing, interceding and coming One, Jesus. The Word made flesh who carries scars for all eternity so that all wounds now may be but for a little while.

One Comment

  1. Tanya Marlow says:

    This is so beautifully and gently written. Thank you – you articulate the tension I feel so often.

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