Friday, September 9, 2011
[This message was preached on September 13, 2001–two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. It is republished in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of those attacks. An extended reflection on these events from the perspective of 2011 will follow.]
Preachers are expected to speak when no one else has any idea what to say. This is not an enviable position. Standing at the graveside, the dying bedside, the scene of the accident, the preacher is supposed to know what to say, when nothing seems right to say.
Sometimes, saying nothing is best. We can be too hasty to speak, too eager to explain, too superficial in our answer, or too arrogant in our presumption. At other times, silence would be mere cowardice and the abdication of calling and responsibility. To fail to speak in these moments is to deny one’s calling and to fail the supreme test of authentic ministry.
The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” [Ecclesiastes 3:7b]. It is often hard to know the one from the other. In most cases, we should carefully speak and prayerfully answer and fearfully explain. This is one of those moments.
Thousands of preachers will stand in pulpits this Sunday and speak with trembling lips to congregations loaded with expectancy. It could hardly be otherwise. The pictures are replayed in our minds and on our television screens again and again and again. We are watching the unbelievable transformed into the undeniable.
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