Preaching to Deaf Ears
Hess, Margaret B., The Christian Century
I stood in the small hallway just outside of the sanctuary, nervously jogging from foot to foot as I strained to see through the crack between the doors into the church. Even though it was a sweltering August day, my hands were ice cold and my heart was pounding so hard I thought I would faint. The two pastors of the church stood beside me, looking like enthusiastic coaches ready to burst through the doors onto the playing field.
I thought about backing out, but decided that nothing short of death could save me at that late hour. The powerful chords of the pipe organ began to vibrate throughout the building. Better to preach than to die, I decided, so I moved through the doors and preached for all I was worth.
Afterward, I was lavished with praise and smothered with kisses from my old Sunday school teachers. Before that day, I had tried to convince myself that the response of the people was not that important. So what if they didn't like me. But I realized that it mattered terribly to me what my home church thought, and it was vitally important that they hear me. The encouragement I received that day was the deciding factor in my acceptance of God's call to preach.
That is why I am stymied by God's words to Ezekiel as he is commissioned to go to the people of Israel: "... and you shall say to them, `Thus says the Lord God.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear they will know that there has been a prophet among them." Then God adds, as if speaking to a child with a quivering lip: "Remember Ezekiel, sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you." I could never buy that when I was a child, much less as an adult, and even less as a preacher. Whether they hear or not? Even if they insult you?
As a preaching instructor, I often ask students to examine how their preaching is affected by the "relational acoustics" of a situation. The term comes from the theory of women's psychological development and refers to how voice is formed and influenced by the "acoustics" of any given relationship. In other words, How is what you say shaped by whether or not you are heard or valued in the hearing?
I ask men and women the same set of questions: Do you ever censor yourself in preaching? …