Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preaching Mozart

by Shawn Brace

I had an “aha!” moment a few months ago during Prayer Meeting at one of my churches. I don’t lead out in this particular Prayer Meeting for now, so it gives me a little more time for reflection. And as we were talking about the Holy Spirit and prayer, the fellow who was leading quoted Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing . . . “ And that’s when the “aha!” moment came.

This verse lays out the divine imperative of the preacher. As Paul writes just a few verses earlier, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Thus, the pastor’s primary responsibility is not to be a counselor, not to create a board agenda, not to be a visionary. The pastor’s primary job is to draw faith from the heart of his people.

This, of course, speaks especially to our preaching. When I stand up each week and deliver my message, what does that message chiefly elicit from my audience? Guilt? Boredom? Fear? A sense of duty or responsibility? I am afraid, far too often, that this is what my audience feels after too many of my sermons. And if that is the case, then I have failed to a large degree in performing my chief goal: drawing faith from their hearts.

The truth is, maybe God places more responsibility into the hands of the preacher than we realize. While everyone is ultimately responsible for his or her own salvation and the implementation of faith, Paul unabashedly tells us that the way this faith is exercised is by “hearing,” and the way that a person hears is by listening to a preacher. Of course, in Paul’s day, very few people actually had access to the written Word. Their primary encounter with the Bible was through the weekly readings that took place in the synagogue.

But is it all that different these days? For most people, though they have access to the Bible on their bookshelves, their only encounter with the Bible from week to week is what they hear from the preacher on Sabbath or Sunday morning. This causes the burden to fall all the more on the preacher to make sure that the one time that person meets the Word, that Word is drawing upon the faith that God has placed into every heart.

And that faith, of course, is nothing more than a heart-experience with God. Faith, as Paul tells us elsewhere, “works through love” (Gal 5:5). So it is my job to raise the appreciation, in the hearts of my listeners, for Christ and His agape love. And by so doing, I am drawing a faith-response from them.

This cannot be done by preaching a 45-minute sermon on how we should all be “prayer warriors” or against the evils of television. If it is devoid of the truth about God’s saving love, then I am simply giving a humanistic sermon, and rather than drawing faith from my listeners, I am trying to play off their sense of duty. Which doesn’t work in the end.

Some may not realize that Albert Einstein was an accomplished violinist. He would often pick up his violin and begin to strum the instrument profusely when he was stumped by a certain mathematical problem and trying to work through the problem in his head. He would create melodies as he strummed, and then he would, all of a sudden, put his violin down and return to his math problem, having figured out the solution as he was playing.

But Einstein didn’t always love the violin. In fact, he didn’t like it at all when he first started playing. His mother, as so many other mothers have done throughout the ages (just like my mother with me), insisted that he take lessons and practice. He was on the verge of giving up the instrument altogether when, one day, he came across Mozart’s sonatas. He instantly fell in love with the instrument and could hardly put it down. And reflecting on that experience, he later observed, “I believe that love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.”[1]

His experience and subsequent observations are poignant. How often do we try to coax people into a “faith-experience” by trying to elicit a sense of duty and responsibility from them? Instead, we should be preaching Mozart to them and drawing faith from their hearts.

Do our parishioners hear Mozart when we preach? “So then faith comes by hearing. . . "

[1] Quoted in Walter Issacson, Einstein (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 14.


Ursula Weigert said...

Thank you, Shawn, for your inspiring thoughts. Only a couple of hours ago a played - well, not Mozart, but Haydn with a friend. You are right, we should arouse at least the same enthusiasm for Christ. As a lay preacher I will try to keep in mind to "preach Mozart". What a lovely metaphor!

Shawn Brace said...

Thank you so much Ursula! If you don't mind, I am going to include your response in our printed magazine.

Blessings to you.