Wednesday, January 18, 2006

'May the words of my mouth...'

I think a lot about preaching.

I think about points and moves, how to arrange them, how they should flow in and out of one another.

I think about the text, when and where it was written and how God might speak through it to a room full of 21st-Century Midwesterners.

I think about illustrations, whether they make sense, whether they're relevant, whether I want a laugh, whether they're too cheesy or moralizing or personal.

I think about how individual congregants will receive it. Will a reference to depression be too much for X, will a mention of death be too soon for Y, will a question about the Iraq war be offensive to Z?

Lately, I've been thinking that I say the same thing every. Single. Week.

Come on any given Sunday and you will hear me touch on one of the following themes: transformation, God's loving presence, the kingdom of God, mission to the poor, comfort to the grieving, the cost and joy of discipleship, how crappy the world is, new life. That last one in particular makes it into 75% of the sermons I preach, closely followed by musing on the world's crappiness. My wife lets me know if I go on too long about how much the world sucks. What can I say? Plenty of material.

Anyway, looking at the above list, I don't think it's as bad as I did when I typed the first sentence. That's my 'gospel within the gospel,' so to speak, my list of favorite themes within the divine-human experience. I wonder, however, if I could find more creative ways to communicate these themes instead of saying 'God is creating new life in us' for the thousandth time. That's the rut in which I find myself. But maybe it's only a rut to me.

Internet Monk is thinking about preaching. But his series isn't that helpful to my rut yet.

Tom Allen at Faithworks is a little more helpful. He's talking about some techniques that people in the emerging church are using and stops by Fred Craddock's place to ask him for some thoughts as well. I was struck by this quote:

Jones adapts his preaching style to the biblical narrative. “I try to embody the text,” he says. “It’s whatever I think the text demands.”

Sometimes that’s wearing a robe and preaching from a carefully worded manuscript. Sometimes it’s sitting on a stool telling stories. Occasionally it means leaving the sermon totally open-ended.

“If the text is an unresolved text,” he says, “don’t tie it up in a neat little package. A friend of mine calls it the ‘Aesop’s fable-ization’ of Scripture, where you feel like every time you teach something, you have to have a moral at the end.

“There’s not a moral at the end of a lot of these [biblical] stories. It’s just confusing, weird.”

Something in there is saying that there's another way, a more creative way, to say 'God is creating new life' without saying those words. Perhaps such a phrase or reading one of my favorite themes is my own 'Aesop's fable-ization.' Perhaps I'm just bored with my style and am looking for a more complete way to embody the text, to let it demand what it demands. Perhaps the week-to-week schedule doesn't allow for as much creativity as I'd like.

Then again, these themes to which I return are my way of communicating basic truths of the church's life of faith. Why not repeat them? Why not proclaim, again, that God is creating new life in humanity and in the world? That's not a terrible thing for God to be doing. The trick, I think, is altering, if ever so slightly, the examples and application of such a truth.

I'll keep thinking about that.