Monday, 31 January 2011

Anglicans Can Preach

Anglicans Can Preach

A few months ago I questioned whether Anglicans can preach. I referred to a tendency to take very lightly on the prescribed text, a phenomenon which is by no means confined to Anglicans only. I am not talking about Evangelical Anglicans, who are quite different in that they indeed expound on Biblical texts a lot and also tend to preach much longer.

There are indeed some great preachers in the Anglican tradition and I will here mention two. First I want to mention Canon Douglas Webster, who was at St Paul’s Cathedral and before that worked for many years in the Church Missionary Society. He died in the mid 1980s just having reached retirement age. His style was easy to recognize. He worked from a specific theme, which was on the one hand saying something about our present life and on the other was drawn from the particular Biblical text. He was a scholar-in-residence at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford when I was a student there and I do well remember one sermon on Jesus’ relation to peace. He built his sermon on two contradictory sayings of Jesus. One was, “do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10.34). The other was, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’” (John 20.19b). In a masterly way he demonstrated that both statements were true and even applicable to us who heard the sermon.

About a month ago we heard a sermon in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town by Bishop David Russell, now retired from the diocese of Grahamstown. He had the thankless task to preach on the magi who paid tribute to the newborn saviour in Bethlehem. Being faithful to the text he nevertheless managed to convey not only the joy that the magi felt when reaching their goal; also, and more importantly, he expressed a kind of uneasiness that they must have felt also, a stir that made them reflect on the way they were living themselves: Jesus after all was a sign that was to be gainsaid.

Perhaps this is preaching at its best: conceptually clear, a theme that is recognizable, and a deep understanding of the text, based on a fair time of reflection and meditation.

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