Critiquing Your Own Sermons – Part 5 of 6

Continued from Part 4

Photo credit: hickory hardscrabble (via flickr.com)CAN MY SERMON BE PREACHED WITH UNCTION?

Unction is defined by Thomas Oden as “an intense awareness of the holy in the midst of our concrete life revealed through human speech.” This question, then, unlike the previous four, centers attention on the preacher. But that is appropriate if, as Phillips Brooks said, preaching is truth mediated through human personality. The spiritual state of the preacher matters and this raises the issue of unction or anointing in preaching. To quote Thomas Oden again, anointing is “this subtle, compassionate, firm, set-apart quality of blessed speech — when firmness is accompanied by tenderness, when awe is engendered in common worship, when moral commitment is bound with love.”

We ought not to surrender to charismatic television preachers the exclusive use of the language of anointing. It’s a Biblical word used in both Testaments to suggest a special divine endowment and it should apply to all preachers. The word is applied to kings (2 Sam. 2:4), prophets (1 Kgs. 19:16), and priests (Ex 28:41). Essentially, the anointing was seen as an act of God (1 Sam. 10:1), though human agents such as Samuel administered it. Thus anointing was held in awe. The ritual of anointing with sacred oil suggests the conferring of power or authority.

Jesus began his public ministry in the synagogue on a Sabbath day by reading from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me. . . .” (Is. 61:2; Lk. 4:18f). Later, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostles, evangelists, and prophets spoke with compelling power. It was evident that the Spirit was anointing them for the task.

Given this breadth of references to anointing, both as a general bestowal on the church and as a particular bestowal for special ministries, we ought to expect that every time we preach we do so under an anointing, and to pray regularly to that end.

But this calls for further clarification. For one thing, the Spirit’s anointing is usually consistent with our personalities. It is more likely to be experienced as a heightening and intensification of who God created us to be, than as a radical change of our make-up. Extroverts will likely continue to be extroverts, introverts to be introverts; proclaimers will proclaim with extraordinary power; teachers will teach with fresh clarity and persuasiveness. Barnabas will still be Barnabas; Paul will be Paul; but each will work with a peculiar anointing as a servant of the Most High.

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