Reinhold Niebuhr, the best-known American theologian of the 40’s and 50’s, once wrote, “The prophet speaks only when he is inspired. The parish preacher must speak whether he is inspired or not.”
There is something deeply attractive to me about Niebuhr’s insight (taken out of context, anyway). He’s got a point, yes. But that’s not what I find so seductive about this one line. You see, this morning as I was crawling out of bed—after a ridiculously late Wednesday night—my wife, Amanda, who is also my colleague at the Lutheran Center, asked me what I was writing for the blog this week.
If my head hadn’t been full of cobwebs, I could have militarized Niebuhr’s sentiment, hurling it at my wife’s appropriate question like a rhetorical hand-grenade. (Imagine here the most miserable, whiny, biting tone possible.)
“Ugh! The prophet speaks only when he is inspired. The parish preacher must speak whether he is inspired or not!” Then, I could yank the covers back over my head as a final exclamation point!
Just imagine that.
Fortunately, those cobwebs (or was it more a fog!) saved me from acting like a giant jerk this morning. Instead, I said, “You know … I’ve got nothing,” and left it at that.
It was the “I’ve got nothing” that led me back to Niebuhr. And, as I considered again Niebuhr’s well-known quote again this morning, I think he’s on to something bigger than the plight of the whiny parish pastor who does not want to get out of bed. Moreover, I think he was actually flat wrong about the prophets, and I’ll tell you why.
You see, it’s not so much that the parish preacher must speak, as it is that Christians cannot help but speak. Indeed, at times we speak out of insight; sometimes we speak out of emptiness; sometimes we speak loudly; sometimes we speak through silence; sometimes we speak through our actions; sometimes we speak through our words, but we cannot help but speak because our whole lives speak about God who creates, claims and redeems us.
Our speaking is not so much about being inspired, as it is a realization: we are always preachers—even when we’re getting out of bed in the morning. And, yes, this is terrifying. But the question is not will we speak, but what will be spoken through us.
Our mission is to invite students more deeply into Jesus Christ and the community that bears His name, so they can discover and fulfill their vocation as disciples. We are a campus site of Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministries, an agency of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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