You could probably get through most of seminary without saying much. Just sit in the back of every class, taking notes behind your computer. Write a paper when you need to, take a test every now and then. Chances are you won’t really be put on the spot very much. But you can’t hide in Preaching class. In Preaching, sooner or later, you will be the center of all attention. As Dr. Satterlee’s syllabus for our Advanced Preaching class this semester says, “Your professor regards your sermons as real. I suspect your classmates do as well. We expect to hear the gospel proclaimed from you. We expect the Holy Spirit to show up. Decide that your preaching is real and prepare and preach accordingly.”
Yes, at times you can feel a bit exposed. All the more so when you go up there without a manuscript or notes, as a few of us challenged ourselves to do this final week of class. And even more when about a third of the way through your sermon you’re looking your classmates in the eyes and you realize your mind is blank. To use a metaphor of Dr. Satterlee’s, you feel like a trapeze artist who has let go of the bar, only to realize the next bar is nowhere to be found.
But you know there is grace in the room. There is no condemnation here. This is a workshop, a space in which to experiment. So you relax, take a breath, and just start talking again. Because you’ve done your preparation. You know the Gospel you wanted to preach. And it comes back – not exactly in the way you had planned, but powerfully none the less. And they get the message. The hear the good news. Because the Holy Spirit showed up.