Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

How’s that for a title? 🙂

News flash – the entry is just slightly more boring than the title…I’m just prepping to preach at my church this Sunday.

I’m procrastinating by blogging.

Can you relate?

I speak in front of students pretty regularly, but it is different speaking in front of my church. Students I can be a little more off the cuff and informal.

Not at my church.

It was nearly 20 months ago when I last preached at my church. The experience was memorable to say the least.

Imagine the leader and figure that meant the most to a church for 26 years leaving the congregation after things didn’t end as everyone dreamed. The one person who was the constant; the person who was there for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and most every Sunday preaching from the pulpit.

Imagine the departure – the final sermon, the tears, the good-byes, the hugs, the kind words.

Now imagine being the guy preaching the next week after he leaves.

I was that guy.

Big shoes to fill? That’s an understatement.

I chose to bring my students with me to share about our experience living in a garbage village in Cairo, and how God met us in the midst of what many would consider the one of the most hopeless places on earth.

Hope was what we needed that day. I tried my best to share hope through the gospel that rainy November day. With tears, the pastors wife greeted me afterwards and thanked me. Even if it was just for her, it was a good day.

This week, 20 months later, I find myself in a very different place in the life of my church. I’m an elder. I’m helping search for our new pastor. I’m having conversations about diversity and missional church and everywhere I go I feel like something is on the brink of exploding – either as an outpouring of love or an imploding of frustration.

They don’t write dramas this good on TV. Except LOST. And 24.

(P.S. I am Jack Bauer)

Twenty months ago, I was on the fringe of the church. Now I feel like I’m in the center of a tornado. Now I’m about to speak about it.

Whenever a preacher steps up to the pulpit, the stakes are high. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Beuchner, says it this way:

So the sermon hymn comes to a close with a somewhat unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down. Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick runthrough of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to his pulpit with his sermon in his hand. He hikes his black robe up at the knee so he will not trip over it on his way up. His mouth is a little dray. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.

In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president  of a bank who twice that week seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee…

…and Henry Ward Beecher is there. It is a busman’s holiday for him. The vestry has urged him to take a week off for a badly needed rest, and he has come to hear how someone else does it for a change. It is not that he doesn’t love his wife, but just that, pushing sixty, he has been caught preposterously off-guard by someone who lets him open his heart to her, someone willing in her beauty to hear out the old spell binder, who as a minister has never had anybody much to minister to him…

…The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher.

I wonder sometimes why in the world anyone would ever have the audacity to step into a pulpit and preach. Seriously.  I talked with one of my professors in this, and here’s how he described preaching:

“Next to love-making with one’s spouse, preaching is the most self-revealing activity you do.  It leaves you naked.”

Doesn’t that sound exciting?  Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

Why do I do this again?

5 Responses to “Getting naked with the stakes never higher.”

  1. 1 Andrea July 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Good luck this weekend. Are you still in Evanston? What church will you be preaching at? What’s the topic?

  2. 2 andybilhorn July 23, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I am still in Evanston – and you are a mom. Wow.

    I’ll be preaching at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston. The title of my sermon is, “From Crisis to Kairos: The Church at its Best.” But I had to make that up a month ago…it’s kinda morphed. Basically, I’m talking about how the greatest opportunities for growth often times come in the times when we are most in crisis. You’re welcome to come! I won’t be able to talk with you much…i’ll talk at you a lot, though… 🙂

  3. 3 Robert July 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    I was talking to Beth about something similar just this morning. Sometimes I have dreams where I am walking around in my underwear. Just doing my daily things, shopping for groceries, getting something to drink at a coffee shop, going to work, but in my tighty whities. They don’t really seem to come at regular intervals, I had one the other night, hence the discussion. They don’t seem to be tied to any kind of personal issue, they just happen. They bother me a little bit, but not for the usual reason. In my dream I don’t really acknowledge that there is anything amiss. If someone gives me a funny look, I just look back like something is wrong with them. Like they are walking down the street naked. Only me watching my dream self gets a little wierded-out. The part that freaks me out a little is that I am so comfortable in my dream in my underwear that it could somehow translate into me walking outside in my underwear in real life.

    Maybe it comes from basically growing up in a Speedo. Well, you know what they say…If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

  4. 4 andybilhorn July 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    rob, are you saying i should preach in a speedo? 🙂


  5. 5 Rev. C. Mark Ealy July 26, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Perhaps the Spirit led me to this post because I published a book on entitled, “The Making of a Preacher: Naked in the Pulpit.”

    Although it was difficult for me to publish that book, the thesis is that real preaching starts — and real living begins — when we get naked.

    Physical nakedness is a metaphor for emotional nakedness. We will find that it is much easier to get physically naked (like the reader did with his underwear) than it is to become truly naked with ourselves and with each other, emotionally. Psalm 51:6 says God desires truth in the inward and hidden parts.

    Life starts when we become transparent with God and ourselves.

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July 2009

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