Last week we ran Part 1 of Heresy and Homiletics. Today’s post continues this mini series.
4. Preacher, does your sermon invite participation?
While the Triune God’s participation is a necessary ingredient, I also cannot ignore the necessity of audience participation in Christian preaching. Understanding this means that I must move away from the individualistic notion that “my” sermon must only be mine. Rather, the sermon is “ours.” Not only is God involved in the sermonizing process, but my congregations must be involved, as well.
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to form a sermon team—a team of biblically informed, thoughtful people from different segments of your congregation, with different talents, abilities, and backgrounds, to help craft the sermon. By forming such a team, we escape the assumption that I am the Gnostic gatekeeper to knowledge of God and salvation. Instead, I invite my community to participate, actively and bodily, in the process of sermonizing. The sermon ends up including not only my knowledge and experience, but I get to hear about the knowledge, experiences, and struggles of the people to whom God has called me to minister—not to mention, I become increasingly aware of how often my own ideas and thoughts aren’t resonating with the people in my congregation.
But the participation of the audience also means that my sermons need to appeal to the five senses of my hearers. This may involve a lot of creative work on the sermon team’s part, especially because our congregations are often accustomed to being passive listeners. But there is no reason I, aside from my own pride, should avoid the use of visual aids, tangible objects, or even food/drink in our sermons.
The more I involve the audience’s senses, the more holistic my sermons will be. And the more holistic my sermons are, the less Gnostic they will be. So I must ask myself, even if in just little ways at first, what does it look like for me to engage all five senses of my audience?
5. Preacher, does your sermon put forth a tangible, localized vision of the Kingdom of God in your community?
This is the application question. The Kingdom of God is not a distant theological idea disengaged from our daily lives. No, Jesus’ very own sermons suggest, “The Kingdom of God is among you.” The Kingdom is in our midst in material, tangible ways; it is accessible to us right here and right now!
Realizing this begins with me pressing my ear, as if through a stethoscope, to the heart of my community. Where are they suffering? And where does the Kingdom of God announce the alleviation of that suffering through the message of our bodily resurrected Lord? What are the matters with which the people in my church are wrestling (e.g., “Why did my son die?” “Why did I lose my job?”)? And how can a concrete word about the Kingdom of God in the midst of this fallen world be of some consolation to congregants who are crying out for answers to such questions? Who are the people on the margins of my community, and what might the Kingdom of God, as embodied through my church, look like for that person?
Until your congregation knows specifically what they are to do in their community and in response to your sermon, they will do nothing. They will assume the Kingdom of God is just a next-worldly reality that doesn’t touch down in their real, this-worldly lives. And when our people assume that, the reality of God’s reign will go un-proclaimed either in word or deed in the hurting places of your community. A tangible, localized vision of the Kingdom of God in our midst will change not only our communities, but our world, as well…this world.
6. Do you embody the message you preach? Or are you a hypocrite?
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was not merely a collection of disembodied moralistic musings. The Word was not merely an indistinct intellectual idea. Rather, the Word came and dwelt, came and lived, came and embodied the very will of God. The Logos was accompanied by an undeniable ethos. And if that were necessary for Jesus, it is no different for us.
It is not enough for me to preach right doctrine, drive home my points through good illustrations and allusions, or even preach a holistically appealing message. My life must be a living, loving logos, an embodiment of the Word I proclaim. If my life and my logos do not align, my logos will leave no lasting impression. And, worse, it will expose an inexcusable Gnosticism at the heart of my theology…not just my preaching.
Friends, I’ve been a heretic. And you probably have, too. But the grace of God means we don’t have to stay in our heresy and hypocrisy. The grace of God heralds the hope of repentance—even repentance from heretical homiletics.
Tom Fuerst is Campus Pastor at Fusion, an athletic facility and church gathering in Panama City, Florida attempting to reach unreached with the unrestrained gospel.