A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Saturday, March 7, 2015

In Loving Memory of Fred Craddock - Meeting God In the Ordinary

Fred Craddock who recently passed away was a preaching genius. I was first introduced to his preaching style through my seminary homiletics class back in the 1980's. We used his new text book at that time, Preaching for the course. I was drawn to the powerful impact that narrative preaching can have on the congregation and on the preacher who is delivering it.
I met Dr. Craddock after my seminary years when he came to Dayton, Ohio to lead a preaching worship. Even though he has been known to be one of the top preachers in the country, he is one of the most unassuming people you can possibly meet. Small in stature, soft voice, grandfatherly tenderness, this man who was getting up in years at the time of that preaching workshop still could capture your attention with his masterful storytelling style and quick wit.
During a break at the workshop, I went up and asked him who some of his favorite preachers have been. Fred just smiled back at me and said, "The best preachers are the ones who know their congregations."
I should have known that someone who was known for their use of storytelling would give an answer like that. By giving me this response, he was reminding me that God is at work in the faith stories of the people and situations in our local congregations and community where we serve.
Fred Craddock has helped me to be a better listener and to be more alert to how God is at work in our familiar surroundings. If I'm only looking for the big and dramatic sermon illustrations that happened to people a long time ago, I will fail to see how God is doing equally incredible things through ordinary situations and experiences.
Here is one of my favorite Fred Craddock sermon illustrations. True to Craddock's style, it's a story that hits close to home.
"My mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn’t go. He complained about Sunday dinner being later when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, "I know what the church wants. Church doesn’t care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, and another pledge. Right? Isn’t that the name of the game? Another name, another pledge." That’s what he always said.

Sometimes we’d have a revival. Pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, "There’s one now, sic him, get him, get him," and my father would say the same thing. Every time, my mother in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, "The church doesn’t care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge." I guess I heard it a thousand times.

One time he didn’t say it. He was in the veteran’s hospital, and he was down to 73 pounds. They’d taken out his throat, and he said, "It’s too late." They put in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat. I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church.

He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story. He wrote: "In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story."

I said, "What is your story, Daddy?"

And he wrote, "I was wrong."
Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, eds., Chalice Press, 2001, p. 14.

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