The sermon I preached yesterday about Paul’s dealing with his critics reminded me of these words with which Chris Erdman opened his book, Countdown to Sunday A Daily Guide for Those Who Dare to Preach.
“Those of us who preach know how tempted we are to be someone else, wear masks, and live inside our own skin in ways that are not altogether authentic. The demands of pastoral ministry are many and diverse, and while tending the souls of others and the life of a congregation it’s not hard to betray our own selves. We stand up on Sunday mornings in a place that can often feel more like a place of danger than a sanctuary. Conflict over a decision of the board, the pain of a family in crisis, the desires of those who hope you’ll tilt the church in the direction of their hopes and dreams, your own lingering mistakes and self-doubts and private cravings load the room where you stand to preach; it’s little wonder we wear masks.
It’s possible to preach in such a way that we keep these masks intact. But I don’t think we can keep them intact and preach Christianly. Christian preaching is, among other things, an announcement of the new creation, a whole new humanity in Jesus Christ, a liberation from old captives. When we wear masks, preaching becomes more about technique and the arts of rhetoric and oratory–managing those masks with greater skill–than it is about entering God’s new world made real through preaching. And preaching, if it is to be Christian, requires real humanness–God’s own in Jesus Christ, and ours as his witnesses, as scandalous as that may be.”
Paul’s critics were all about style over substance. Paul would have none of that, seeking instead to focus on the power of the gospel message. Rather than wear masks, Paul was open and honest about his suffering and hardships, even if his critics used them to discredit him.
Most encouraging to me is the line from 2 Corinthians 11:11 that I quoted above. What helps Paul take off his masks and minister with honesty and authenticity was knowing that while people might impugn his motives, God knew the love in his heart.
When I love, God knows; so I can just take off my mask and preach!