Who am I to preach?

January 25, 2010

When I was a college student, I sought a faith I could affirm. I had
been raised in a conservative Christian home. I discovered spirituality
during the psychedelic '60s, found a spiritual practice through
Transcendental Meditation, and returned to church.

I went back to
church for the community and for its interest in social justice, but I
was still looking for a Christianity that was credible. Then I read Paul
Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith
and my life was transformed. From Tillich, I learned that faith always
exists in relationship with doubt. Questions about faith are a sign of
the importance of faith to us.

This interdependence of faith and
doubt is affirmed in the contrast between kataphatic (“with images”) and
apophatic (“without images”) theologies and spiritualities. On the one
hand, almost any experience and object can reveal the omnipresent God;
on the other hand, all experiences and objects are finite, and they both
reveal and obscure God’s revelation. As H. Richard Niebuhr noted,
revelation requires a receiver, and it’s the receiver who shapes the
revelatory experience.

As far as doctrine and experience go, most
postmodern progressives and moderates affirm relativity and limitation.
For them the question is this: What beliefs or practices might cause us
to condemn anyone who would challenge our way of life and faith
tradition? This week’s lessons don’t call us to pure relativism, but
they do challenge us to relativize every position—including our
own—before the immensity of the universe, the plurality of faith
perspectives and the glory of God.

Jeremiah’s ability to speak
for God is grounded in its sense of limitation. Like Jeremiah, every
faithful pastor asks, “Who am I to tell the people what God wants them
to do?” Yet sheer silence is not the answer, not for people who have
entrusted their spiritual lives to our care and who need to hear good
news.

As a working preacher, week after week I am called to share
a healthy theological/spiritual diet: not the only possible diet, but
the one that emerges in the weekly interaction of my spiritual journey,
the lives of congregants and the local and global worlds which touch
them. Perhaps it is enough to preach boldly while recognizing I will
always be partly wrong and must listen to the voices of others,
including people in my congregation, as I seek to grow in faith and
wisdom.

Additional lectionary columns by Epperly appear in the January 26 issue of the Century—click here to subscribe.