Grandfather wrote his own Preface, so let’s begin there.
“The spectacle of sermons in print has been compared to a visit to a mortuary for the purpose of viewing a departed friend. What we cherished — the smile, the personality, even the mannerisms are all gone, leaving only the cold and lifeless remains.”
Ah, preaching is a spoken art. It’s all about delivery and eye contact and intonation. There’s more to it than the words. How can that possibly convey when all we have left is printed type? I wonder if the Biblical writers ever had this foreboding. Just words, what will they have to say, what possible pleasure could they give, to someone who never knew me, never saw me, never heard me?
Yet, Grandfather did have them typed out thanks to “Mrs. Orlando Berg for the suggestion that his manuscripts be turned ‘into printer’s copy.'” That despite her overcrowded secretarial schedule she found time to prepare the typescript and enlisted three others (mentioned by name) in the “arduous task.” To them Dr. Rilling offers his “warmest gratitude” for “our book.”
And it’s in the “our” that I suspect he took comfort and drew confidence. What Dr. Rilling knew, and what wisdom and knowledge he drew from, were due to others – many others. He writes, “Every author draws upon the stored up wisdom of the past in others’ books and finds his better thoughts coming from the living encounter of mind with mind.”
We are what we read, as in many ways we are what we eat, provided we don’t spit it out, but manage to chew it a bit and subject it to our powers of digestion. Dr. Rilling sought to lend the product of his preaching to the nutritional climate of his day, that the good of it might nourish others and provide sustenance for their days.
But he didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. It grew out of the “thrilling encounter of weekly worship in a congregation whose hunger for the Word of God is a constant challenge and encouragement.”
Wow. Would I say that my weekly worship is thrilling?
(Personal aside: I love his word choice here, as I used to introduce myself saying, “Hi, I’m Wendy Rilling, that’s thrilling without the ‘th.'” Not to influence your opinion of me, but hey, at least you may remember me.)
But back to thrilling worship… would I say that my hunger for the Word of God challenges and encourages my pastor? Have I even considered that we are partners in this endeavor, he/she and I? That I have a responsibility to come with my questions, respond with my doubts, and take my enthusiasm to the study the Word of God on my own?
Well, this congregation apparently did, and so Grandfather, in his gratitude, said this is not “my” book, this is “our” book. Rather, it is the story of the group of us finding meaning and purpose in The Book. It is not a spoon feeding to helpless infants, but a meal set before discriminating patrons. Dr. Rilling is around the table with these, and even perhaps sees himself at the head of this table with the responsibility to pay the bill — which he most certainly knew he didn’t have in cash.
This book is his payment in full. In story, in prayer, in wisdom, in lesson, and in the telling of it all, laid out in cold type, it is anything but dead. It is as alive for me today, as I can only imagine it was to its original hearers.
To him and to them I express my warmest gratitude.