Today's worship service began with the congregation singing an enjoyable gospel-folk version of "Wade in the Water" led by the Fleshpots of Egypt. Then we sat through a rather mundane David Lose sermon from which the main takeaway was the rule that if you are a straight white man, probably don't preach a text about a woman that a black African woman who is a marvel of a preacher already preached on this week. Plus, I couldn't tell who the sermon was for. It sounded like something anyone might preach on a routine Sunday; it said nothing that every preacher in the room didn't already know and hadn't probably already said themselves from a pulpit. Not the caliber of sermon one expects at this festival and a serious disappointment from someone many of us trust and use as a resource for our preaching.
But, then, came Barbara Brown Taylor to lecture on ways she has changed her mind about preaching over her career. She announced that this was her final appearance at the Festival, so there was a bittersweet element to being there for this recap of a distinguished career.
With her eloquence and grace she talked about how she generally makes only one point anymore, has begun to use fewer personal stories, quotes less often, and uses fewer theological words (despite having written a marvelous book defending them in the 1990's).
In her sermons she now "lavishes all my attention on the one true thing I want people to take away."
She has learned "the virtues of a failed sermon," including that a failed sermon "gives me the chance to measure my own defenses."
She has concluded that the preaching task is primarily about "continuing to show up." Then she added, "It's how we learn what faith, hope, and love look like in the flesh."
This capped a week in which I believe the primary theme was the role of the pastor. Often the role of the pastor in the Age of Trump. But more broadly exactly what our purpose and call are, what tasks we are to be about.
This morning I began reading Wendell Berry's What Are People For? one of his classics that I have, surprisingly, never read. In his discussion of the writer Edward Abbey I found a helpful description of the preacher in the Age of Trump:
He sees the gravity, the great danger, of the predicament we are now in, he tells it unswervingly, and he defends unflinchingly the heritage and the qualities that may preserve us.
May we be up to the task to which the Holy Spirit has called us.