"What do you do?" asked the member of the search committee.
"I preach," I answered.
Of course I do more than preach, but I knew what he meant; he wanted to know how I saw myself, how I defined my vocation. More accurately, perhaps, how my vocation defined me.
Since that day over six years ago my questioner has heard me preach about 200 of the 2000 or so sermons I have written and delivered since seminary graduation. In any life, an activity that claims that much of one's attention and time had better be a favorite thing if life is going to be pleasant or its product any good.
Jacques Barzun wrote of his long commitment to university teaching, in Teacher in America, that for many the word "teacher" suggests "underpaid, pitiable drudge." For those who see preaching as a exercise in trite religious piety, the word "preacher" suggests "long-winded sanctimonious bore." For them the delicious character of the parson Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice—written, probably not so incidentally, by a parson's daughter—isn't parody at all.
I am not suggesting that our culture is hostile to preaching. Most people are simply indifferent. They don't care how much preaching is going on, as long as it is not happening while they are around.They may even put up with a few words from the preacher at their daughter's wedding, as part of the price of using the pretty building that comes with the preacher.
The main reason I love to preach, to paraphrase a friend of mine, is that I really believe this stuff. "This stuff"—the Bible, the Creeds, Jesus as Lord, to name some of it--is so grand both in concept and content that there is no rational way to "believe" it without it taking center stage in life. So I preach it because it is true—not because I think it is, but because it is no matter what I think. Whistler was an artist, not a preacher, but he had a preacher's attitude: "I am not arguing with you - I am telling you." Real preachers do not dance around the truth. They don't speculate. They tell you. Take it or leave it.
The second reason I love to preach follows from the main reason. A truth that claims to save the world deserves to known. I cannot conceive of a greater honor than the privilege of being able to proclaim it.
Those of you who have dipped into my writings have shared some of my interests in worldly things.This series of columns has been mainly about things I delight in. Since they are of the earth, they will pass away along with my delight in them.
My commitment transcends my delight. I delight in the good things of a world that will pass away, but I am committed to One whose words will not pass away and who offers eternal life to all who believe.