Like the Wells Fargo wagon that is comin’ down the street in Meredith Willson’s musical, “The Music Man,” the preacher mounts the pulpit to deliver the goods—no question that it is prepaid and not C.O.D. The contagious anticipation of Winthrop, the little boy with the lisp in River City, that what the wagon is bringing, “...could be thumpin’ for thumone who is no relation, but it could be thump’n thpethul just for me.” As he jumps for joy, River Citian’s look eagerly down the road.
This anticipation does not always match the expectations of our hearers. But some do venture into church one more time with the longing for a word from the Lord which cleanses and heals and wipes the slate clean, that builds up and impels into better days. Like those eagerly eying the horizon for the Wells Fargo wagon, they are hoping for a gift—it can be a surprise or the oft-heard message—that will change the way they see themselves, their God, their friends, and their foes.
God is like a father who returns from a trip with a special surprise. He is like the mother who picks up a real treat for us on her way home from work. He is a Santa Claus, who asks us to climb up on His lap and carefully listens to our requests, who carefully considers our every request and sorts them out to give us what is of greatest benefit to us at just the right moment. He gives freely, no strings attached, and He gives generously, bountifully. His gifts transform our lives and our very sense of who we are.
What preacher’s deliver to their hearers is not just one or another gift, a present or two that enriches life. Preachers also deliver the very presence of the Lord. He enters our lives and gives us His presence by engaging us in conversation in the various forms of His Word. But for many He speaks directly to them, above all, in the sermon. The preacher makes clear God’s presents are for you. He speaks to us out of the gift of the Scriptures. They deliver the direct address of our Creator through the words of the prophets and apostles. Our Maker reveals His presence and the best of His presents by communicating with us and inviting us to communicate with Him in meditation and prayer.
The preacher makes clear God’s presents are for you."
Many North Americans are not particularly aware they need either God’s presents or His presence. Many of us are quite self-sufficient, we like to think. But many others do want to hear us on any given Sunday or festival because they are yearning for something, some word to point them in a new direction or give them some never before thought-of insight or provide some fresh answer. It is the challenge of the preacher to ascertain which word that is. Finally, however, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the connection no preacher can do. The Holy Spirit is the one who delivers the goods we as His delivery wagons carry to His people. So, we preach boldly and boldly go before the throne of grace.
The best gift of all is His presence. When He comes near, He breathes comfort, support, a sense that things will be in order no matter how much of a mess our lives have become, through our own actions or through the actions and attitudes of others. We know His presence is an undeserved gift because we usually have not tided up our places in life for Him. He just barges in and sets Himself down amid the mess we have made with our lives. We are not always the most pleasant people to be around, but He seems not to notice. The preacher gives voice to the Holy Spirit. He says, “Make a little room for Me, hearer of the Word!”
It is, of course, clear that the nature of God is to be present everywhere. However, the nature of His presence or its purpose in upholding and sustaining, supporting, rescuing, and restoring what He has fashioned may not be so clear at any given moment. His nature as the good giver may not be taken for granted by sinners because we want a god much like ourselves and do not relish the thought of always extending a hand of blessing. We may even resent His nature as the one who gives without condition, without any merit or worthiness in us, since it implies our dependence and the inadequacy of our own powers. So, our hearers are struggling against the temptation to let their minds drift. Other siren songs compete for their ears. But the Holy Spirit can penetrate through the barriers to engage their thinking and move their hearts.
Sometimes God’s presence in giving His blessings is hard to discern. Preachers can help imagine what God might be giving in something which does not look like a gift at all. Sometimes people of our time and location fail to recognize or comprehend the mastery of life provided by God’s blessings. we too easily think it seems as though God is absent in most places or simply not necessary in any corner of our lives. For the places in which our lives take place seem totally touched by human hands, and human hands seem to supply everything we want or need or, on the other hand, to snatch away what we most covet. But no matter how long it takes some to realize it, His absence leaves a finally noticeable hole. The preacher provides what it takes to stuff the stuff of God into the holes. He fills the darkness with the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, who embodies God’s presence and His presents. Jesus exercises His lordship through the preacher’s setting the world in the context of His dramatic path to the re-creation and restoration of our humanity.
Jesus exercises His lordship through the preacher’s setting the world in the context of His dramatic path to the re-creation and restoration of our humanity."
Even when it seems God’s gifts saturate the lives of our hearers, it may be necessary to remind them of what is not obvious in a world where most of the time we fare pretty well for ourselves. Things and opportunities we take for granted, we need to be reminded, flow from God’s generosity. We can try to help hearers determine which of His many gifts they can best use to demonstrate and enjoy His presence in our people’s lives.
Depending on where they have come from or what they have been through in the past, the presence of God may have brought them the gift of liberation from being out of employment or from being deathly ill or from a family crisis of one kind or another. They may not think of all their abilities and aptitudes as gifts from God, given for the joys of meeting the needs of others. It is easy for all of us to forget He is the one who dispenses our enjoyment of His gifts of recreation, sports activities, good novels or biographies, and music that stimulates and calms. Connected with those gifts are the presents wrapped as opportunities to use those gifts of abilities or things which become blessings for the service of others and/or for our own delight. Material benefits or capabilities join with the experiential possibilities of life to let God’s presents and His presence flow over us and immerse us in His generous and bountiful being of who He is.
As we approach the weekly time to deliver the goods once again to our people, we rest in the hands of the One who has fashioned these goods on His cross and as He came out of His tomb. We have confidence in our delivery because the Holy Spirit is delivering the goods in His own special ways. We are simply grateful for being able to serve as God’s wells Fargo wagons.