Attack the Hill!
The hill was huge. I had been running cross-country for a few weeks, and was able to run about five miles already. Those miles were typically on level terrain, however, with only the occasional decent-sized hill. Now, I was standing at the base of one of the biggest hills I had ever seen. I was familiar with it since my best friend lived at the top, but I preferred getting there by car. The hill appeared far more menacing on foot, wearing a pair of running shoes, than it ever had sitting in my mom’s sedan. Maybe that’s because cars seem to climb hills almost effortlessly, a slight hum of the engine as the gears shift, immune to the human realities of fatigue or pain.
I, on the other hand, was about to feel a lot of pain and experience extreme fatigue. Perhaps our coach saw the way we newcomers were looking up at the top of the hill, which seemed more like a mile away than just two blocks, because that’s when he told us to “attack the hill.” As our coach explained, you either attack the hill or let the hill attack you. His instruction changed my perspective. Rather than seeing myself as a victim, I needed to be the aggressor. While it seemed counterintuitive to run harder and faster when you are already tired and in pain, it actually worked.
I mention all of this because I was reminded of this experience recently while reading Fred Craddock. In his book As One without Authority, he discusses the diminishing opinion of preaching and the place of the pulpit not only within the church, but also in society. At one point he remarks, “Preachers of smaller caliber, however, have been thus lured into forgetting that they have the right to preach, not because of what they get from the newspaper, but because of what they bring to it.”  As preachers, we stand before the overwhelming amount of bad news, like an inexperienced runner staring up at an intimidating hill. We try to survive it by putting one foot in front of the other, responding to each bleak headline in turn. What else is there to do?
Craddock suggests that we, in the words of my cross-country coach, “attack the hill.” He suggests that, rather than respond to the world’s bad news, we proclaim the good news. Instead of trying to make sense of human action, the best course is to speak of God’s action.
Perhaps this is why the word proclaim is used over 70 times in the New Testament. Twenty instances of this usage are found in Acts, the story of the early church and its continuation of what Jesus began. The priests, captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees are greatly annoyed at Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2 ESV). We read that “Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (8:5). After his conversion Saul spends some time with the disciples in Damascus, then “immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (9:20). For three consecutive Sabbath days, Paul speaks to the Thessalonians in the synagogue, explaining how Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection were necessary, telling them, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (17:3). We even read that Paul spends two years in Rome while awaiting trial, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).
We cannot dismiss the boldness of these earliest Christians as the result of more favorable circumstances. The “hill” of bad news they faced was far steeper than our own. The empire was ever-present. The leaders of the religious establishment they considered their home were against them. Nevertheless, they attacked they hill with reckless abandon, proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ. In keeping with Craddock’s thought, they refused to be dissuaded by what they read in the paper, because they had a message that itself was headline news.
As a cross-country runner, attacking the hill was not only about changing my own perspective, but also about intimidating my competitors. Nothing is more demoralizing in a race than having someone speed by you on a hill when you feel bone tired. How do they have so much energy? There is no way I am beating them if they still have the energy for all of that!
When we attack the hill with the proclamation of Christ, when we refuse to allow the bad news of the world to drown out the good news of God, people take notice. Unlike competitors in a physical race, the world’s question is not “how do they have so much energy?” but “how do they have so much hope?” We can attack the hills, or we can let the hills attack us. We can spend our careers off balance, scrambling to respond to the world’s latest calamities. Or we can boldly proclaim that God has a different agenda, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the kingdom of God is among us, even in our broken world.
 Craddock, Fred B. As One without Authority. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001. 17.