Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coming in Currents: Preaching and Prayer

This essay is exerted from Craig A. Satterlee, Fulfilled in Your Hearing as an Ecumenical Contribution and Opportunity,” We Preach Christ Crucified: A Conference on Catholic Preaching, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, June 25-27, 2012. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9_JGb_bAXI)

            Somehow, Advent seems an appropriate time to reflect on preaching and prayer. “How does prayer factor into sermon preparation?” I am never certain how to answer that question, and so I am constantly on the lookout for help. In June, I presented a paper at a conference on Catholic Preaching at The University of Notre Dame marking the fortieth anniversary of Fulfilled in Your Hearing, a reflection on the meaning of the homily in the Sunday Mass published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have been reading this helpful document for seventeen years if only because of the way it reminds me that prayer is essential to sermon preparation (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 11).
            In terms of homiletic method, Fulfilled in Your Hearing declares that preachers are, above all else, to be prayerful. We are not talking about prayer alongside preparation for preaching, or prayer over and above preparation. Rather, prayer is the very heart and center of preparation, with the goal that the word of God in the Scriptures is “interiorized” (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 11). Preachers pray over the readings seeking the fire of the Holy Spirit to kindle “the now meaning” (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 10) in our hearts. This takes us beyond exegesis, as well as our own agendas and impressions, to doggedly question, even implore, God about what word God is speaking to this assembly on this occasion.
            This kind of prayer changes the preacher.  FIYH reminds preachers that proclaiming Christ crucified in a particular Christian assembly requires that preachers be listeners before they are speakers, remaining open to the Lord’s voice not only in the Scriptures but in the events of our daily lives and the experience of our brothers and sisters (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 10). Claiming the role of listener is where Fulfilled in Your Hearing and Roman Catholic preaching have most impacted me personally as I have embraced preaching as my primary spiritual discipline and sermon preparation as prayer. I am not alone. Michael Pasquarello, Granger E. and Anna A. Fisher Professor of Preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, increasingly emphasizes in his classes that the primary responsibility of the preacher is to be a listener rather than the culturally accommodated role of "communicator."  In an email exchange, Dr. Pasquarello observes,

The primary communicator to, in, and through the Christian community is the living God through the presence of the risen Christ and by the power of the Spirit.  Prayer is attentiveness and receptivity in the presence of God. The current faddish turn to "topical" preaching does not preach by means of Scripture, but rather skims a "relevant" topic from the surface in order to serve a predetermined agenda, program, or goal.  Evangelicals and Mainliners both like this approach. But this leaves no space within the worship of God for the fulfillment of the Word in its speaking and hearing.  Luke 4, the inaugural sermon of Jesus, shows just how resistant we are to this kind of vulnerable listening? (Michael Pasquarello, "Re: Fulfilled in Your Hearing," Message to the author, 6 June 2012, Email).

            Attentively listening to the Scripture and the people, FIYH asserts, is perhaps the form of prayer most appropriate to the spirituality of the preacher (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 10). We pray that God will open the heart of the assembly, so that God’s Word falls on receptive ears. We pray for ourselves, that God will guide our preparation, help us maintain our role as what one homiletician has called a kind of “interloper” in the assembly, and grant us grace to differentiate our words from God’s, so that we do not preach ”what might be expedient, popular, burning in the preacher’s heart, the correct answer, or best course of action, but not necessarily a word from God” (Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005), p. 51), 
Preachers pray, asking and expecting the real movement of the Holy Spirit in themselves and in the assembly.
            If you want to know what I hear as I pray over the weekly lectionary readings, the events of our daily lives, and the experience of our brothers and sisters, visit my “virtual logjams” at http://craigasatterlee.com.
            I pray for you and Advent that exceeds your expectations and a Christmas that fills you to overflowing with joy.
Craig A. Satterlee

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