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Feed: Pastoral Meanderings Posted on: Thursday, March 08, 2012 5:00 AM Author: firstname.lastname@example.org (Pastor Peters) Subject: Preaching... We can fix this...
While it is often the complaint of the laity and often the lament of Pres. Harrison that the state of preaching in the Church is not good, this is a fixable problem. I am not suggesting that every preacher will be a star in the pulpit or even that they should be. I am speaking to the point of content, context, and conversation.
Good sermons begin with good content. I lament that most preaching classes begin with sermon writing. I think this is a big mistake. I learned only well after seminary the value of reading sermons. I read a great many sermons still. I continue to read and re-read the sermons of Luther (which are not the kind most preach today) but which teach by virtue of listening to what is said and how it is said. I love to read modern day preachers and peruse some of the sermons posted on the internet, the classic sermons of folks as diverse as Helmut Thielicke, Martin Franzmann, Norman Nagel, OP Kretzmann, and even David Scaer. I read non-Lutherans like Robert Farrar Capon, among many others. Reading for content and reading for style is a good thing and this teaches preachers a great deal about this very important task and responsibility. I also read the sermons of the early fathers -- though very different in form from some of the sermons of today, they are often masters at communication.
Part of content means to be thoroughly conversant with the text for a specific Sunday and the course of the lectionary in the weeks prior to this sermon and the weeks that follow. It matters less which lectionary you use than you use it -- not just to find a text for Sunday but so that you can see and form the sermon within the context of what the people heard in the weeks before and what they will hear after this sermon. I follow the three year lectionary and this Epiphany we have spent the majority of time in the first chapter of Mark. Good content for one sermon requires consideration of the context of this pericope within the book and within the lectionary. There are commentaries that dig into the textual issues and there are commentaries that offer a more directed resource for the preacher. Greek helps, to be sure, but don't turn the sermon into a spotlight for your linguistic skills alone. It also helps to know the hymnal well.
Context is important. The best preacher is one who knows WHO he is preaching to -- that is why it is so hard to preach in the first months and even years in a parish. Once you can look out from the pulpit and be able to see into the faces of the people knowing who they are, their circumstances and stories, it is much easier to preach to them. Don't forget that the first person you preach to is yourself. Often the sermons about those people or you are sermons that are much harder to hear than when the preacher includes himself among those to whom he is preaching. I am often reminded of great wisdom given to me when I was a young Pastor -- preach to pain and you will have many listeners!
Preaching is really a conversation -- though it seems that only one voice is speaking. With the Word preached is the ear of the faithful whose listening to the Word is not the passive listening as to the voice on the TV but the active listening of the faith, by the power of the Spirit. Good preachers are not necessarily great orators and, in fact, great oration can be the enemy of good preaching. Preaching is not the spell binding work of a master actor playing a role. It is the honest conversation of the Word flowing through the personality and experiences of the preacher similar to the way that Word flowed through the personality and experience of the Gospel writers. Good preachers do not mask their personality or hide it but use their personality and experiences to assist the proclamation of the Word (a servant role to be sure but still there). Good preachers are not clones of the great preachers of the day (as once LCMS preachers seemed to try to sound first like Walter A. Maier or later Oswald Hoffmann or evangelical preachers tried to emulate Billy Graham). A preacher must find and speak with his own voice even though what that voice speaks is the Word of God.
All of this is teachable... all of this is capable of being learned... In other words, if the preaching is broken, we can fix it. Preachers need to focus upon the content, consider the context, and remember that this is an ongoing conversation in which the preacher is part and the hearer is part and that both sides involves a certain level of who they are and where they have come from even though it is all about the Word. Preachers need to prepare well and to prepare well in advance. The feverish Saturday night sweat over what you will say is never conducive to clear thinking and good preaching. Sadly we preachers often justify our failure to prepare with all the usual excuses even while our people hear us prepare to fail in the pulpit. So I would encourage all preachers to read sermons -- good and bad -- and to reread their old sermons -- good and bad -- and to be so thoroughly invested in the lives of their people that they preach to them as folks familiar to them and their words will hit home and, finally, to remember that hearing is part of the equation of preaching and authentic preaching is necessary to the conversation that is good preaching...
My two cents worth...
You might check out Liturgical Preaching which has just been redone by CPH as Preaching is Worship: The Sermon in Context and is available here.