“What Did I Miss?”
I don’t know of anything worse than to be on the “missing end” of some experience that left everyone on the “receiving end” talking non-stop about its significance. It doesn’t matter whether it was something on the news or something in the skies, the failure to experience its impact leaves you feeling small in soul, much smaller in fact.
Of course, nowadays most occurrences, if missed, can be revisited by way of technology. The eye of social media more than compensates for our being “out of the loop” on occasion so that we never really have to worry much about missing out again. That being said, the immediacy of some encounters can’t hardly be recaptured on YouTube. As we used to say in the days before the Internet when we tried to explain to someone else about something we just experienced, “Well, I guess you had to be there.” Anyway you cut it, a second-hand experience will never suffice for the real thing.
I was reminded of this truth in a preaching lecture this past week in Atlanta. I had gone over to participate in the Board of Visitors meeting at the McAfee School of Theology and stayed for the first lecture in the William Self Lecture Series on Preaching by Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the preeminent homileticians of our day. Her lecture was on the topic, “What I’ve Learned About Preaching over the Years.” Now retired from both parish and classroom, Taylor spoke about how she sees even more today the importance of the simplicity of preaching, not so much in substance but in theory. In other words, how do we take the deep truths of Scripture and convey them in terms simple enough for congregations to grasp the divine?
What got my attention the most in her lecture was her comparison of the number of times in the King James Version the words “behold” and “believe” appear in the Bible. Like most of those in the audience, I would have staked my 403B on “believe” carrying the day, given how much attention we give doctrine in our teaching and preaching, but not so. The word “behold” occurs 1298 times in the KJV, while the word “believe” occurs only 280 times. Barbara Brown Taylor’s point was that perhaps God wants us to understand that our faith is a much more personal matter than it is a propositional one.
In fairness to her she was very clear that one should not pit beholding and believing against one another as if they’re oppositional terms; they are most clearly not. What we believe is of utmost importance because of how it best leads to beholding. But at the end of the day, it is in beholding the divine that we best know what it means to believe.
I think we understand this principle almost innately. I think back to my Dick and Jane reader in first grade and the first word that I learned to read – “LOOK!” “Look, look!” It was almost as if I was being forewarned about proceeding in life without paying attention to what would be going on around me, which when I come to think about it, is what all good preaching ultimately does. It calls us to pay attention to the many things God is about in our world each and every day. “BEHOLD!” “Behold, behold!”
How many people do you know who are shuffling through life with a head full of Bible but not much in their hearts that moves them to obedience? Little wonder that our witness today seems to fall more and more on deaf ears. We’ve failed to inspire others to stand in awe of that which can only be explained in terms of God, in large measure because we have not beheld enough of God to inspire us in the first place. Just as leaders can’t lead people to where they’ve never been, so witnesses can’t move people to experience something (or Someone) they’ve never encountered.
So, open your eyes and your heart to the possibilities that are before you. God is always up to something and the chance to behold it for yourself and experience the transformations that God’s doing always brings is something that quite simply no one can afford to miss.
“And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest…for I will not leave thee nor forsake thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15).