Part three of four part series, adapted from "A Faithful Witness: Essays Honoring David Sebastian's Heart and Mind for the Church."
Once a connection has been established, the preacher can move to relating God’s story to the congregation. This is perhaps the sweet spot for those who have labored over texts and word studies, who have spent long years in seminary and ministry preparation, who have dug out the truth of the scriptures and the white spaces in between for the good of the church. It is tempting then, for an equipped and ordained preacher to unload all her knowledge in one sermon at one place in time and preachers who fall prey to this temptation quickly lose their connection to the people they have stood forward to encourage.
The suggestion here is not that the study be negated or the methods of exegesis not applied, on the contrary, arduous study and the deep work of parsing ancient texts is a must, however, the preacher must distill this information, must evaluate what portions help illuminate the message, must decide which points help her tell God’s story to the church.
Consider for a moment some of the miraculous, fantastic, life changing stories of Hebrew and Christian scripture. Recall God wedding God’s self to Abraham in Genesis 15, remember Lot’s daughters, seducing their own father after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19. 30-38), God moving in to kill Moses on the way down to Egypt because Moses’ son had not yet been circumcised (Ex. 4.24-26), Jesus’ revolutionary claim that he would be found in the least of these (Matthew 25. 31-46), Mary of Migdol’s history altering role as first herald of the resurrection (John 20. 1-18), Paul’s gratitude to Prisca and Aquilla for “risking their necks” for the his life (Romans 16. 3,4).
The narratives of scripture are rich and potent and human such that our sermons should invite listeners into the struggle, allow them to get their hands dirty, to taste and smell the bread and wine, to hear the wind rustle in the silvery leaves of the olive tree and to feel the salt spray of the Mediterranean on their sun splotched cheeks. Likewise, preachers should draw from the deep well of inspired texts instead of moving instantly to draw spiritual platitudes in effort to domesticate ancient stories that are wild and free. When we relay the story of Jesus walking on the water, it seems ill informed to move to the application of Jesus’ ability to calm the stormy seas of life, rather, we should relay the power and supernatural wonder of the miraculous claim that Jesus—walked—on—the –water (Matt. 14.22,23).
Read Parts I and II below.