From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Jason Cheung

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

“For now we see in a mirror dimly…”
1 Corinthians 13:12

As a child, I listened as best I could to the preacher every Sunday.  The red cushioned pews of my childhood church, off Main St., was cushier than our blue ones here at RCAC.  Back then it was much easier to fall asleep.

God in his grace let the preaching words of people pierce my hard heart, over time.  I heard Him, and stepped in faith more than a few times, responding to a call to repent, to love him, to live for him, to serve him.

And yet, listening to a sermon is still difficult.

I am both a preacher, and a listener.  But my big head makes me think I am more important as a preacher.  God has shown me how foremost I am to be a listener.

The preacher is a person, and not perfect.  This is true of all of us, but when a person called, and trained, and even ordained, steps behind the pulpit, that person is still a person.  Called and made an instrument by God – yes! – but still a person like every other.  As a preacher preaches there may develop over years an ego that supersedes the task.  But (I speak as one called to preach) the moment I believe I have more to say than I have to listen, then I’ve lost my call to preach.

Most every vocation requires expertise and skill, a mastery of the task.  Coaches take charge of the team.  CEOs manage large companies.  Surgeons are captains of the operating room.  These are necessary for these roles.  Preachers, too, take years to hone the skill to preach, but preachers have a different aim.  Preachers are never meant to stand out.  The most faithful preachers are forgotten, because when the Word meets the hearer’s heart the lingering ache is for Christ.  When the preacher is remembered, he has failed.

And yet, for some reason, we’ve made pastors to be coaches of people, CEOs of churches and surgeons of souls.  That’s foolhardy because pastors are not called to be any of these.  Pastors are called to preach and get out of the way of the Spirit’s work in hearts.

by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God  
To speak; the air a staircase  
For silence; the sun’s light  
Ringing me, as though I acted  
A great rôle. And the audiences  
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.

                        Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,  
Though it be you who speak  
Through me, something is lost.  
The meaning is in the waiting.

In his poem, Kneeling, R.S. Thomas opens within the anticipation of a person in the pew, “waiting for God to speak.”  Every element described of the church is space readying for the Word.  Even the air is “a staircase for silence.”  Then the poem turns, and we learn the person in the pew is actually the pastor about to preach.  And this pastor says something profound:

When I speak,  
Though it be you who speak  
Through me, something is lost.  
The meaning is in the waiting.

These lines capture well the tension of the preacher as person and the preacher as conduit of God’s holy Word.

As a preacher, I have buckled under the pressure of conveying God’s Word to God’s people.  I have  tried various voices to “improve.”  AuthorityHumourKnowledge.  But, I used all these only to prove myself worthy.  These voices have a place, for sure, but they can also get in the way.  I was in the way.  When I stopped trying to prove, and rather trusted, paused, and waited, the Spirit worked his meaning into me.

Thomas’ poem reminds us, listeners, that the preacher is merely an interpreter, and every word that comes from his or her mouth will lose something of the divine meaning.  And that’s fine.  The temptation for listeners (as it is for preachers) is to take every word spoken as if it were God’s very Word.  But biblical authority is not transferable from Word to preacher.  The only person where this authority rests perfectly is Jesus – “the Word was God” (John 1:1).

So, listen to the Word.

By all means, listen to preachers.  But, listen with the aim of listening to God.  Discard the chaff, and be nourished by whatever truth comes through.  Be gentle and gracious to preachers who try, but communicate poorly.  Be thankful for faithful preachers who highlight the text for you, for the church, and then step aside.  Be wary of preachers who demand respect based on authority.  Be open, though, to the humblest of preachers who tremble as they step into the pulpit. Be wary of preachers eloquent in speech who gain followers to themselves.

Be open, though, to the Spirit’s voice between Sundays, in the silent and in your waiting.

Listen to the Word.

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Jason Cheung