Visiting the Classics

The Lord be with you. I pray all is well with you and your family and that your summer has been more or less relaxing so far. For me, your pastor, a man who pretty much writes a five page paper each week and needs time to refill his mental reservoir in various ways in order to do it, I’ve had the chance to really dig into Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, and at the same time, I’ve managed to visit a little here and there with some of the finer bits of literature from folks like Twain and Dickens.

Twain cultivates insightful observation. Dickens is an artisan of language.

It may sound somewhat trite to say, but the classics are classics for a reason. They have a proven way with words. They communicate so well, and in this, they have become tools for teaching communication. Personally, I think they are gifts to preachers. They emulate ways we might use language for introducing a listener to Jesus.

I know, I know. Someone might already be thinking, “Just preach the text, Thoma, and don’t worry about this kind of stuff.” To that, I say, “Humbug.” I say this not because I don’t want to preach the text. You, the members of this congregation, already know that I do. What I mean is that when you intentionally employ some of the communication tools—things like point-of view, simile, hyperbole, personification, and others—you find yourself capable of communicating in a way that’s less talking about Jesus and more preaching Jesus to the listener. In other words, and by way of example, let’s say you want your son to meet the new child who just moved in down the street. You could tell your son about him, or you could put in the extra, more intense effort and walk him down there and introduce him. With this, you’ve made your son a participant in the event, and in so doing have cultivated for a better chance at friendship.

Care with the language that goes into the sermon—looking at all of the propers, hymns, and the like and finding ways to join them all together with a verbal cadence set on true faithfulness—this takes work, but in the end, it’s well worth it. Additionally, and personally, I think it helps to keep the never ending task of preaching the same texts over and over again somewhat fresh. And I suppose that in a purely human sense, it helps the listener absorb and maintain what’s been preached for a little longer than five minutes.

Of course, preachers can safely admit that in all of this, the Holy Spirit will impact the heart exactly how He sees fit when the Gospel is purely preached. Still, that should never give the preacher license to be lazy with the task and ultimately the words. He’s not putting on a show, but he is doing everything he can to handle the Word of God carefully and to communicate it the best way.

I think that visiting with the classics helps in this effort, and so I do it. And I’m just glad that this summer has afforded some time for the exercise.