Preaching is like the blurred image of a mountain on the bosom of the French teacher – A Preaching Parable

text-message-preaching-scripture-in-the-multimedia-age-by-ian-stackhouse-0718842634I am currently reading a great little book edited by Ian Stackhouse and Oliver Crisp about preaching, called Text Message – The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching, and can be found by those who seek!

It is a collection of essays by thirteen writers, each contributing to the book within its three main categories:

Part 1:  Biblical and Theological

Part 2:  Historical

Part 3: Textual

It really is a wonderful collection and should be on every homiletics course reading list in our colleges and universities, not to mention the shelves of ministers and preachers alike.

In any case, there is much to say about this book, but I was re-reading the foreward by Thomas G. Long, a professor of preaching  at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, USA.  I was struck by a story he told of a preacher (James A. Wharton) remembering his French teacher from school and how it related to preaching:

The students call her “Fifi,” not out of affection but out of mockery over her large and awkward body, for her clumsy social manner, and mainly the way she would purse her lips and pronounce French phrases with an exaggerated accent.  “We snickered behind our hands,” he wrote, “and traded malicious glances, and dismissed Fifi as an inherently ridiculous person.”

One fall, Fifi related to her students that she had taken a wonderful summer trip to France and that she had seen the most beautiful sight in the world, the famous Mont Blanc, which, of course, she pronounced, “Moan Blawnnnnnnk.”  Wharton writes, “For the better part of a term it was ‘Moan Blawnnnnnnk’ this and ‘Moan Blawnnnnnnk’ that until we all went into a frenzy of heartless hilarity every time Fifi honked the name.”  Every time she mentioned the place, the class would break up, but Fifi would just stand there undeterred, seemingly confident that, if the class could have been there, could have stood where she stood and seen what she saw, every student would have been equally overwhelmed by the sight of “Moan Blawnnnnnnk.”

Late in the term, Fifi proudly announced to the class that she had brought colour slides of her trip to show the class.  Now the students could see for themselves the magnificence of “Moan Blawnnnnnnk.”  But things did not go as Fifi planned.  When she projected the blurry image of the Kodak slide onto the screen, “the imps of hell could not have matched the screech of laughter that greeted Fifi’s ears from her hysterical students.”  The screen was filled with an image of Fifi herself, in profile and in all her awkwardness.  In the left upper corner of the screen, was Mont Blanc, “a tiny, snowy triangle perched saucily on Fifi’s voluminous bosom.”  The students howled with scornful glee.

Now as a grown man and remembering that eruption of derisive and callow laughter, Wharton says, “It is only recently that I have gained the maturity to wonder how Fifi managed to cry herself to sleep that night.”  And then Wharton asks Fifi for forgiveness – forgiveness because he is now an adult and a preacher, and he knows how it feels to have seen something so beautiful that he wants everyone else to see it too, only to find his ridiculous self getting in the way (italics mine):

It is now my turn to try to express to other people what I take to be a transcendant wonder.  In my heart of hearts, when the clarity of faith is on me, I cannot imagine any wonder remotely comparable to the victory of God’s self-giving love for the world in Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . Yet every time I stand to proclaim the wonder, I am painfully aware that it is my comic figure, and my ridiculous words, that confront people in the foreground.  I have to hope that people can somehow concentrate on the snowy triangle of the gospel, perched somewhere indecoriously on my person, and percieve the wonder in spite of me. . . . God grant that my next slide-show will let the mountain fill the screen.

From the Foreward in ‘Text Message’ edited by Ian Stackhouse and Oliver Crisp, p.xi-xii

randonnée refuge du Varan - vue sur le Massif du Mont-Blanc
Picture Credit: here

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