A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation. It has to be heard in that way. There are three parties to it of course but so are there even to the most private thought: the self that yields the thought, the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought, and the Lord. That is a remarkable thing to consider.
– Reverend John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead
This quotation from Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, is illuminating. When pastors preach, we are not simply talking to those in the congregation who receive from us. Preaching is a wondrous experience of preacher and congregation standing together in the presence of God as all three parties simultaneously interact with one another.
The pastor speaks and listens to God, while also speaking and listening to the congregation. The members of the congregation speak and listen to God, while also speaking (many times non-verbally) and listening to the pastor. And, most definitely of all, God is speaking and listening to all parties.
This picture of preaching quickly clears away the illusion that preaching is a simple one-way street of communication from preacher to congregation. It returns us to the wondrous mystery that the human participants are entering a conversation amongst the Triune God that started long before the preaching moment ever began. In that reality, both preacher and congregation are welcome guests attending to the God who has spoken, will speak, and is speaking even now.