I’m shutting the door to my study, on my way to conduct the Divine Service, preach the Word, and administer the Sacrament. One of my members, athletic himself with his kids in sports, says casually, “Have a good game.” He didn’t say this mockingly, sarcastically, or ironically, but sincerely the way you say it to one entering the arena, the lists, the field of battle.
In over 30 years, I’ve never heard that and I thought how apropos. Paul likens the Christian life to boxing, the arena, the race course. A game-face is needed if you’re going run the course of preaching the Word in season and out of season and believe, contra churchmen, bureaucrats, and church-growthers, that in doing so you are following Paul’s admonition to do the work of an evangelist. The sanctuary is indeed a field of battle where the Devil, the world, and your own flesh dare you to preach the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name with the devils perched in the rafters ready swoop down and take the Word away so people will not believe. The Divine Service is definitely the list where you run full-tilt with the Sword of the Lord at misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice. One or the other of you is going to be unhorsed, and it’s only by God’s grace that it’s not you.
“Have a good game.” Preaching is a contest, a match, a race, a battle. a war. Faithful pastors know this, not many layman do or if they do, they don’t think you need to know. I suppose you don’t, but it is nice when you do. When you’re in the pulpit you’re a lightning rod, a standard to be spoken against, a line in the sand. I can see why the emergent church emerges on to the floor of the sanctuary to ‘preach’. You blend in with the crowd there. Just another voice among the cacophony. Not so when you’re proclaiming, “Thus says the Lord” which denounces all who say otherwise.
I have a device that records my steps. I am amazed that on Sunday, the day I feel the most blown out and up, I look and I see 1.2 miles. That’s it? I feel like I’ve gone 12 rounds, ran a marathon, fought with wild beasts even (1 Cor. 15:32). And for what? Ah, I know that voice. It’s that of the Devil, the world, and my flesh. But what do I say? I ran across this answer from Luther recently.
Based on Malachi 2:7 saying that the lips of priest preserve knowledge, Luther said: this “is a passage against those who hold the spoken Word in contempt. The lips are the public reservoir of the Church. In them alone is kept the Word of God. You see, unless the Word is preached publicly, it slips away. The more it is preached, the more firmly it is retained. Reading it is not as profitable as hearing it…Satan does not care a hoot for the written Word of God but flees at the speaking of the Word” (LW, 18, 401).
I love this picture. The feeble, faltering public preaching of the Word I do, every faithful pastor does, opens up a sanctuary on earth free from Sin, Death, and Devil. It does this not by my witty illustrations, my riveting style, my oratory, persona, or person. It’s the public proclamation of God’s Word that drives back Sin, Death, and Devil thus opening a safe space for sinners who carry their mortality on their backs.
As you enter the pulpit hear, “Have a good game.” The faithful pastor will even though like many an NFL player who has one he’ll need a soak in a tubful of ice after.