I'm preaching tomorrow for my preaching class. It's kind of humorous, since this is my last semester of my MDiv and I've done both my internships where I've preached many times, and I've preached a bunch in my job as Peace Ed Coordinator for Northwest Yearly Meeting, and preached in meetings wanting to hear about my experience in Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and a few times "just because," or for "pulpit supply," so in some ways this class feels unnecessary. It's just getting official credits.
At the same time, I feel like it is good for me to have to take this class, because I am learning some things about structuring sermons that is helpful. I think I already do what they suggest unconsciously, but if I make it more conscious and intentional I think it will help me communicate messages I feel called to share more effectively. I definitely still have a lot of work to do in this area, so I'm looking forward to seeing what I learn.
But then there's the issue of the point of preaching. That should probably be a separate post, but to put it briefly, I think the point of preaching is speaking what God tells me to speak at a given moment to a specific group of people. This might be prepared in advance, knowing that a group will be gathered at a specific time and God wants me to share something with them. It will hopefully then be well-researched and stated in a way that draws people in and does not distract people with its mode of delivery and so forth. But for this class, we're supposed to imagine we're preaching to a congregation rather than to the people in our class. We're supposed to imagine the people in front of us are "normal" people (as opposed to seminarians, because God knows seminarians aren't "normal"!), ones we might preach to in our denominational and geographical context. This is good in that it is useful to try to connect meaning with those who don't have the same level of education on all this biblical stuff as other seminary students do. At the same time, to me it's hard because it seems like this totally misses the point of preaching. One can't practice preaching just by trying to say something intelligent, witty or engaging, or by delivering it well. This isn't preaching--it's rhetoric.
But rhetoric is good to learn, too...and it will be good to hear critical feedback on my style and delivery, which will hopefully help me to communicate what I hear from God in a way that people can hear and understand more easily.
So here goes. The text is Luke 6:1-5. Here is my translation:
1 One Sabbath, [Jesus] went through fields of grain, and his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands and ate them.
2 Certain Pharisees asked them, “Why do you do what is against Sabbath law?”
3 Jesus replied, “Have you not read what David did, when he and those with him were hungry?
4 He went into the house of God, took the Bread of the Presence, and ate it. He also gave some to those with him. This is not lawful for anyone but the priests.”
5 And he said to them that the Son of Humanity is Lord even of the Sabbath.
I wrote out about a 15 minute sermon, but we only have 5-7 minutes. I want to use 5 and then have 2 minutes of silence. We'll see if that happens! We're supposed to do a 3-point sermon in whatever form we want to make that. We have to give all three points during the 5-7 minutes, but we can just mention one or two of them and elaborate on one more fully. It's hard to even mention three points (as well as an intro and conclusion) in 5 minutes! I don't think I've ever preached less than 20 minutes...probably much to the chagrin of those in attendance!
Anyway, one of the helpful structures we've been taught in the class is to think of the form, function and focus of our sermon. So I've listed those below, as well as an outline of my three points. What do you think? (Just say you like it, because by the time I read your response I will have given the sermon already. =) There are some queries at the end that I probably won't use in the sermon, but that you can ponder if you want.
Focus: The Son of Humanity is Lord of the Sabbath, and Sabbath is not about following particular cultural practices, but is an every-day, moment to moment process of birthing God's rest into the world through our obedience to God's call to the law of love. (Side note: "Son of Humanity" is actually a more literal translation of the Greek, and the Hebrew it came from in the case of this term. Greek uses the term "anthropos," which means human being, as opposed to "aner," meaning male person/man.)
Function: The hearers will experience a recognition of the call of the Holy Spirit in their lives toward creative action that might include breaking human laws, both legal and social, in order to live in obedience to God's law of love. Hearers will undoubtedly find this challenging and scary, but hopefully will also be encouraged to live out God's truth in radical ways because they are part of a community who is listening to God together and struggling to live out what they hear.
Form: 3-point sermon shape in the logical format of Promise-Current Practice-Challenge
Introduction: story about praying when my husband's computer broke and I was surprised when it “worked.” Do I really believe God is Lord, “even of the Sabbath”? Do I believe God has authority here and now, over things as small as plucking heads of grain, or computer problems?
*Put the text in its context in the midst of a cycle on true discipleship and questions of Jesus' authority and identity
Point 1: “The Son of Humanity is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Discussion of the true nature of the “Sabbath” in present-day context
*To live out the Sabbath means bringing God's Sabbath rest into the world in accordance with how we are called to live moment by moment
*Sabbath is not a particular day, but a way of life: a way of life that lives out *Jesus' mission in the world from Lk 4:18-19
Point 2: The problem is, we want clear-cut laws of how to live, because without specific guidelines about what to do (or not to do), we feel lost in a sea of relativity
*This is how it can feel, but it is not that we are completely antinomian. Instead, we are living out the law of love and wholeness.
*This will look different in various contexts, but it will always promote life, love and healthy relationships with God and others (as well as all creation)
Point 3: Each day we pour out the new wine of God's Spirit, the Good News, into the lives of those around us.
*Will we try to pour this into the old wineskins of “the way we've always done it,” or the cultural traditions we've decided our lives should conform to?
*Or will we let go of our comfortable, familiar old skins and allow God to give us daily new wineskins?
*Truthfully, I'm afraid of not being able to find any new wineskins, so I hang on tightly to the old ones, “just in case.” But then perhaps I don't look hard enough for how God is calling me in each new situation.
*These will not be completely different from the old ones: they might look just the same as the old ones did, only they are fresh. Or perhaps they look different depending on the culture and time in which we live. But they all serve the same function: they are vessels in which the Spirit can be poured into the world and can ferment to maturity, producing wine of a full and mature quality, not just seeping out and coming to nothing on the floor of the wine cellar.
Conclusion: To do this we must take time to listen to God, as Jesus did and encouraged his disciples to do.
*When I am surprised that God answers prayer by “healing” a computer, what does this say about the authority I give God in my life? Am I not living as if the “laws of nature” are the most powerful?
*This is only one small example, one that is not particularly important in my spiritual life. And yet, if I do not trust God with even such a small thing, what is truly happening (regardless of what I say I believe) in the larger areas of my life: where I will get enough money to live on, the jobs I take, the ways I treat those I meet each day, the standard of living I expect I am entitled to, and the list goes on.
*Let's listen for a minute now to the Present Spirit, who is still Lord even of the Sabbath, attending to the ways we have fallen back into the comfort of old wineskins rather than listening from moment to moment about how the Spirit wants us to enact love for such a time as this.
Laws are our comfortable “old wineskins” that have become brittle and are beginning to crack.
*How do we resist the temptation to give authority to these traditional ways, and yet still follow the same God as our forebears?
*How do we listen anew in each situation without getting so lost in relativity that we cannot find our way?
*Can we trust God to give us new wineskins each day, rather than trying to rely on those found and used by others previously?