Module 7: How we Craft. read.watch.reflect.practice.

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HOW WE CRAFT

 


    “Great Word of Life, great Light of the World, breathe on us.  Shine on us.  So that by looking we may see and by listening we may hear.…”

    This is part of the prayer for illumination offered every time I am invited to proclaim the indwelling Word.  This prayer does not begin on Sunday morning when I mount the steps to preach, but when I sit in the company of the Holy Spirit to craft the sermon.

    Dwelling in the Word gives preachers the opportunity to step into a text looking, watching, asking, smelling, and, if possible, tasting its truth and mystery.  The preacher cannot approach sermon preparation as a spectator or observer, but must fully abandon the world where she lives for a time to immerse herself in the text.  There, while dwelling in the Word, she discovers how to craft the sermon.

    Crafting a sermon is unlike preparing for any other kind of speech.  Other speeches utilize rhetorical tools to relay some sort of information or instruction before, beneath or within the speech.  Preachers who dwell in the Word find that the Word of God itself is the actual sermon.  We preach the text.

    There are three elements to crafting the sermon: understanding the genre of the text, understanding the contemporary context of the sermon, and wrapping both in the preacher’s prophetic imagination.

    Some preachers find the most difficult moment of sermon preparation to be after the preacher has faithfully done careful exegesis and is confronted with the frightening question of how to say what she has been compelled by the Spirit to say.  This is often the part of the process when preachers sift through commentaries, articles, and perhaps even sermon notes from other preachers in search of a form that will be useful for preaching a particular text in an equally particular context.

    Those who dwell in the Word more easily find that the form of a sermon can be found simply by understanding the genre of the text.  Thomas Long offers an insightful section on biblical genre in his bookPreaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible.  In it he identifies psalms, proverbs, miracle stories, parables, prophetic oracles and short stories as just a few of the genres offered in the texts of scripture (1.) Each of these genres communicates particular characteristics, historical content and rhetorical functions with faithful forms worthy of sermon preparation.

    Consider for a moment the Psalms as a genre.  Psalms are poetic and liturgical through and through, although they vary in context and primary purpose of use.  Long says the Psalms, like all poetry, persuade us “by making finely tuned adjustments at deep and critical places in our imagination” (2).  The task for the preacher who dwells in the Psalms is not to appeal to the power of persuasion or academic acrobats but instead to receive the poetic genre with its probing and unfolding as a gift fit to be used in the form it already is in.

    With genre in tow the preacher who is still dwelling in the Word widens her gaze to invite her actual preaching context to join her in the work of formation.  Paul Scott Wilson offers a hermeneutical instrument for dwellers in “four pages of a sermon” (3) where preachers marry the trouble and grace in the text with the same in the world.  Wilson seems to mimic Karl Barth who first offered the notion of the relationship between Bible and newspaper.  Both images confirm that the genre of the text and that of the contemporary context where preachers live and proclaim must be continuous.

    The pulpit in the black church became a prevailing force because of the black preacher’s mastery of this very way of crafting the sermon.  The distinctive power of black preaching provides a form which transports preacher and hearers from the trouble in the text and world to find grace enough to cover both.  In the text where the lion becomes like a tamed pet and the fiery furnace welcomes the company of the Son of Man, the preacher who dwells forms a contextual sermon equally as subversive and reassuring.

    Finally, when the preacher has been gifted with the form of the text and invites her context to lie faithfully beside it, she is ready to practice what Walter Brueggemann calls “prophetic imagination.” By this Bruggemann does not offer an external analysis of the world or current issues with or without the lens of ancient texts.  Instead he affirms the moment when the preacher is free to “utter, entertain, describe, and construe a world other than the one that is manifest in front of (her).” (4)  At this juncture, genre and context are clothed in a glorious skin that appropriates God with agency and character, namely Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Jesus, the Logos of God, emerges from the wilderness full of the Spirit to perform what in some church traditions is called his initial sermon, recorded in Luke 4:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor,

he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted,

to preach deliverance to the captives,

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty them that are bruised

    Jesus had been dwelling in Isaiah 61, with its trouble and grace of the age of the prophet Isaiah, and brought it into the trouble and grace of his own first century world.  With flesh and blood Christ utters, entertains, describes and construes a sermon whose form is as old as the text in which he dwelled.

    Whether on paper with pen, or on the contents of a human heart, the sermon is crafted marrying genre, context and prophetic imagination enough to allow the preacher to offer the person of Jesus Christ the Word of Life, Light of the World and nothing else.


Rev. Denise Kingdom Grier

Maple Avenue Ministries

Holland, Michigan



Endnotes

1.      Long, Thomas G. Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible. Philadelphia; Fortress, 1989.  Print, pg.45.

2.      Ibid, pg.46

3.      Wilson, Paul Scott. The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999.

4.      Brueggemann, Walter.  The Prophetic Imagination. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.




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reflect.

Consider the questions below - ponder them in your mind and in your heart. Then write out your answers before meeting with your group.

As you read and watch, how do you...

...find yourself resonating with the ideas offered in the essay?

...find yourself experiencing resistance?


practice.

Consider the text you have internalized over the last few months. What message is starting to appear? How would you begin to see this as a sermon?