I've been preaching for some sixteen years now, and teaching preaching and biblical studies for seven. This week some of my students questioned whether one should - and some how one should - address painful topics in sermons. The specific issue was when a child comes out to her or his parents that he or she is gay or lesbian. Some thought that the issue was so painful for parents that even hearing the key words would set off painful memories fear and grief, and they would shut down and never hear a word the preacher says. Others thought that it is imperative that the authority of the Church, pulpit and Word of God are brought to bear on the most difficult of topics. Others thought that some sermons are better off preached by the congregational pastor and others suggested a visiting preacher who could say what needs to be said and then leave. Many of my white students are not comfortable with the preacher staking out and proclaiming a moral position on issues in the long-standing of the Black Church.
To paraphrase our past president and take his words totally out of context. Preaching is hard. And hard preaching is even harder. Yet as Paul reportedly said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" The Gospel is hard. And by that I do not mean the scandal of a crucified Jewish Messiah and women's idle tales of Resurrection.
The hard Gospel which must be preached hard when preaching is hard is the kind of thing that will get you disavowed, abandoned or even killed. (Read Peter Storey's account of preaching against apartheid, "With God in the Crucible.") It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable - that is particularly dangerous, because the comfortable pay the bills.
You may not become famous. You may not be promoted or even invited back. But one of my elders taught me that "God called me to be faithful, not successful." Sometimes the latter follows the former, but don't count on it.
Preach hard. Preach like you're preaching for your life. Imagine God saying to you:
Child of woman, I have made you a sentinel for my people; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life.