Sunday, 25 June 2006

Ten propositions on preaching

by Kim Fabricius

1. What is a sermon? Wrong question. A sermon is not a what but a who. A sermon is Jesus Christ expectorate. You eat the book; it is sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach (Rev. 10:9-11); you spit out the Word and spray the congregation. When grace hits the mark, it always begins with an unpleasant recoil.

2. A sermon starts in silence. Before a preacher preaches, she must not preach, she must listen; and when she does preach, it is only because she has to preach. God gave us one mouth and two ears—and the preacher must use them in that proportion.

3. Sermon preparation is primarily the preparation of the preacher, not of the preached. The preparation of the sermon itself will only be as rigorous as the askesis of the preacher. Pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit—and then work like stink. If the Holy Spirit hasn’t been with the preacher in the study, he’s not going to accompany the lazy bastard into the pulpit.

4. Context, context, context. A text without a context is a pretext. The context of scripture, of course, but also the contemporary context—the Bible in one hand, the broadsheet in the other. The clash of two worlds: scriptura probat mundum.

5. Relevance? Blow relevance! It is God who determines relevance. Who wants to hear about relevance? For example, the forgiveness of sins, the whole of the gospel, is relevant—but not because, as the world thinks, the forgiver finds inner healing, but because the guilty one is a sufferer in need of acceptance and embrace. When relevance rules, the tail of the world wags the dog of the church.

6. The gospel itself is not “Repent and be forgiven”—that is sheer legalism—but “You are forgiven, and therefore now free to repent.” Even pagans say, “If you’re sorry, I’ll forgive you.” More to the evangelical point, how can we repent of sin when sin is only known as sin forgiven, when we can only know ourselves as sinners in the light of grace?

7. Technique? Skills? Voice coaching? Forget about them. A sermon is not oratory, a sermon is sui generis. Besides, all theological speech is broken speech. Moses had a stammer, and Paul was embarrassingly inelegant. Smooth tongues are often forked. What has been called “word-care,” however, is a different matter: the practice of word-care is crucial. Literature, particularly poetry, is the school of word-care. Remember: you are responsible for every word you preach.

8. And the latest technology? Woe unto “techies”! Technically, Richard Lischer observes that “when the brain is asked to multi-task by listening and watching at the same time, it always quits listening.” Substantively, if the medium is the message, how can the medium of IT—icon of postmodern power—square with the word of the cross? Lischer provides a thought-experiment: “What would Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech look like in PowerPoint?”

9. Your congregation: know it, live it, love it. This is the perichoresis of preacher and community, and it must lie at the heart of every sermon. If you don’t laugh and weep with your people, you’ve got no right to expect them to hear you preach.

10. Finally, preach like there is no tomorrow—because there isn’t: in the sermon tomorrow is already today. Homiletics is eschatology. On the other hand, if you haven’t struck oil within twenty minutes, stop boring!

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