The Best Preacher of Our Time
The Best Preacher of Our Time
I just listened to the best preacher on the radio... and for that matter in any pulpit or on any TV channel in these United States. His sermon addressed, if obliquely, current events, particularly the anger surrounding a "shy, gentle, beautiful, young woman who died in Florida" this past week. The preacher made me laugh, he made my eyes moisten, and he made me think about a world in which there is "so much anger, so much trouble." He made me wish it wasn't so. And he prodded me, oh so gently, to embrace the softer virtues, like patience and understanding. That's a marvelous mix: wit, wisdom, and compassion.
No, the homilist is not Robert Schuler.
It isn't Dr. James Dobson.
It certainly isn't Pat Robertson.
A recent church newsletter singled out a well-known preacher of the last generation, Clarence Jordan, who, with his wife, founded Koinonia, from whence also came the inspiration for Habitat for Humanity. Jordan was famous for his preference for blue jeans and motorcycles, ministry to the poor, and his Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament. Barbara's father and I chuckled often to his rendition on an LP of a country preacher who took as his text a verse from and about "the Peezeltree" (Psalter).
The fellow I have in mind as the best in our generation has his own deep country roots, but they were dug more than a thousand miles from Jordan's Georgia.
You can hear him every weekend, usually in the early evening. His church is in St. Paul, Minnesota. It's a renovated theatre, like so many of the mega-churches popping up around this land. The sermon is bookended with music of every kind, from Bach to rock with a leaning toward country, blue grass, and folk. Every now and then the preacher will sing in a mellifluous baritone a hymn like "Sweet Hour of Prayer" or "I Need Thee Every Hour." Like Jimmy Swaggart he's not averse to using some plain, even coarse, language when it's needed. But the message is always engaging, down-to-earth, and Gospel-true, usually celebrating compassion (for a definition, reread I Corinthians 13) too easily set aside by the righteous and holy.
He knows whereof he preaches. He grew up in a family he describes as members of the "sanctified brethren." And, boy, does he regularly skewer them! I laugh and bleed at the same time.
Have you guessed of whom I write? Who it is who in my estimation preaches the best sermons in our time... and on the radio? Sure, the Scandinavian with the heavy black eyebrows worthy of Frankenstein, the genius behind the weekly NPR program, "Prairie Home Companion." Garrison Keillor.
On a Sunday when your own preacher has come up short, caused your mind to wander, and left you wondering to yourself, "Now, what was he trying to say?" On a Sabbath when you badly need a lift, but not a stroking; when you want some bracing wisdom delivered with humor; when you're looking for the Gospel in street clothes, not angelic robes; then find Garrison on your dial.