I would love a creative conversation in Candour on sermons.
I remember an elder in my first parish informing me as he was leaving (!) that my preaching went only so far and then it left things open-ended rather than me taking the opportunity to deliver the ‘killer’ punch. He was taking his family to a church where the preacher would tell him how things were.
I was disappointed about his leaving but impressed that he saw exactly what I was trying to do. I was serving in a context where a few preachers had been telling everyone what to think and the majority of people were quite over it.
Nearly 30 years on I still view the sermon as a conversation. I understand the engagement with the scriptures as opening a window for ongoing dialogue with God. If the preacher leaves no questions for further discussion and no sense that there is more to be explored then I wonder if the preacher has inserted her or himself into an unhelpful place – as the dispenser of all truth. I say unhelpful because I truly believe that all of our sermons are a form of nudging up towards the truth but never quite getting there. God builds the bridge – we preachers contribute to and invite the conversation.
Recently I was asked where I pitch the sermon in relation to the congregations I serve. My thinking was that I aim out in front of them. The Word of God calls them onwards – a calling from the future (the kingdom coming).
I do not aim behind them as if it is my role to back them up and endorse where they find themselves.
I do not aim right at them either, as if to please them. I do meet congregants from various churches who do, however, behave as if this is exactly what the sermon is to achieve. They talk critically of preachers and sermons that they do not agree with. Of course all of us will find something to disagree with in almost every sermon we hear (except, of course, our own!), but I wonder whether there is a kind of litmus test being applied which needs to be challenged. Why should the sermon have to meet our predetermined criteria for it to be God’s Word? Does that mean that we do not need any sermons at all because we already have everything sorted? That is one monumental position to have attained given that we still live in the land of Paul’s only seeing in a mirror dimly! I have to say that those who insist that any word from God has to comply with their predetermined positions (isms) strike me as people struggling with idolatry.
I aim my sermons in front. In front of the congregation and in front of myself. I miss a fair bit of the time. But I aim there anyway. I figure that we are all on a journey of discovery and the Word calls to us where we find ourselves – inviting us into deeper engagement.
“Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.” Psalm 42:7
I found this quote from Rob Bell really helpful:
“The sermon is an art form that needs to be reclaimed… It’s the original guerrilla theatre, somewhere between a recovery movement, a TED Talk and a revival. This art form has been hijacked in our culture. For many people, the sermon is how you build bigger buildings. But the sermon is about the sacred disruption.”
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/through-hell-and-back#lfXLqP44ZBEFgbUE.99
I like that. Sacred disruption. I forgot to mention that I understand any conversation with God to be unsettling. The Scriptures are full of God disrupting and disturbing people – there needs to be a somewhat untamed dimension to our sermons.