Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Sermon About Preaching

A Sermon on Preaching
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
January 12, 2014
Text:  John 1:1-18

[This sermon was part of Teaching Liturgy Sunday, Part One, which focused on The Word within the Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending order of Lutheran worship.  The video of the sermon can be found here:]

Remember that sermon you heard one time that touched your heart so deeply, you felt that the pastor was talking directly to you?

Or how about the time when you heard a pastor preach and you felt your mind open in a way that freed you to think differently.  It just changed your whole perspective on things.

Do you know what was happening in those sermons?  God was communicating with you.  God was talking to you, working on you, inviting you into a new way of feeling, thinking, and acting.  Isn’t it amazing that God uses ordinary human words - ordinary human beings – to speak to us?

When we talk about “The Word of God,” preaching is part of that. The Word of God is a multivalent phrase, which means that it points to many different things.  For one, it means the actual “word” that God spoke in the beginning.  As we read in the first two verses of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”  Thus “the Word of God” is also Christ, the Word incarnate, made flesh among us.  And more, “the Word” is also Scripture.  We proclaim that in and through these words in the Bible inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit and written by humans, as imperfect as they are, we can encounter God. 

Preaching, too, can be a means by which you encounter God.  In the preaching event we see all aspects of the Word come together.  God’s Word in Scripture is incarnated once again in the interpretation of the preacher and in his or her relationship with the congregation, which is yet another manifestation of the Spirit of Christ.  You and I are God’s Word, because we were spoken into existence as a Christian community by the words of Baptism and Holy Communion.  And when we gather around the font and table, and around words of Scripture, two things happen.  We read them, but they also read us.  They shape us as individuals and as a gathered people of God.

These Words in the Bible are not dead words of ancient times that have no meaning today.  This is not a museum book.  It is meant to be the living Word of God.  And it is through the ongoing, fresh and contemporary work of preaching that the Word comes alive in the speaking and the hearing. 

Good preaching should feel like a good meal, like you’ve been fed.  It should nourish your soul and your mind and your heart in some way.  Sometimes in a sermon you’ll be offered a taste of something you’ve never tried before, or something that is a little hard to chew.  You’ll need to trust that the preacher has the best intentions and your best interests at heart.  And good preaching over a period of time should offer a Word from God on many different topics, Bible passages, and theological themes.  Not every sermon is going to be a gourmet meal, or a bowl of your favorite ice cream.  But if it’s nourishing and has at least a little good flavoring, it will do wonders for your appetite for God’s Word. 

As one churchgoer said to another, “I may not remember every meal my spouse made over the years.  But I know I was fed nourishing food that sustained me day to day.  In the same way, I may not remember every sermon in detail.  But I know I was fed on the nourishing Word of God that sustained me week to week.”

Over time, a preacher develops a relationship with his or her parishioners that should help them develop their relationship with God.   Sometimes God’s Word, spoken by and through the preacher, will make your squirm by holding a mirror up to you and our world to show you how things really are.  That’s what Luther called “Law.”  But ultimately the purpose of preaching is to proclaim God’s presence, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit working in our midst.  You should hear Good News in just about every sermon.  That’s called “Gospel.”

Homilitician John McClure says that in the preacher’s proclamation of grace “God's will and power are identified not with what  . . .  is but with what will be.” [1]  This means that preaching engenders hope and cultivates faith, which is trust in God.  God’s Word in and through preaching helps us to imagine a new future and gives us the means and motivation to live as if that future is already happening now. As McClure says, “Anticipation of a new future grounded in faith in God conditions and motivates life.  The Christian life is one of hope, consciousness-raising, learning from and suffering with the oppressed . . . , hope for and involvement in the work of social transformation, and joy in the present, rooted in faith's hope for and vision of the future." [2]

That future has already been started in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  It is the promise of the resurrection that gives us the commission and power to preach.  “Go and make disciples,” says Jesus.  “Feed my sheep,” says Jesus.  “I am sending you,” says Jesus.

Come to God’s Word.  Be fed with God’s Word.  Be filled with hope and faith in God’s Word.  And be sent with God’s Word, the light of the world.  Amen.

[1] John S. McClure, Other-Wise Preaching:  A Postmodern Ethic for Homiletics (St. Louis, MI: Chalice Press, 2001), 137.
[2] Ibid., 137.

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