So, for this sermon I will be sharing my creative process and methodological approach, without the snippet. For those of you who are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the audio file. We read in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so I'd rather you hear the sermon instead of just reading it anyway...
In the Church at Worship: Introduction to Preaching class two weeks ago, Doc Simpson had a moment of inspiration during his lecture—almost like we weren't in the room—and then remarked that sermons will sometimes sneak upon you. So it was with this sermon. A few weeks ago, after preaching my last sermon, I started to meditate on Psalm 121 for the purpose of preaching. On Wednesday of last week, during the reading of Scripture during our Charles Emerson Boddie Lenten Lecture Worship Service, the sermon snuck up on me. It was as if the text and title ran up to me, tapped me on my arm, shouted, "You're it!" and ran away. From Wednesday evening to Saturday evening, the sermon was elusive. In this game of Hide and Seek, I sought...reading, listening and meditating...while the Word hid.
So the Word was hiding, and I was busy. Last week was like no other week I've experienced since being ordained. And as such, I had to draw upon my ordination vows. During the Sacred Act of Installation there was one line that I repeated several times in response to the the vow: I will endeavor to do so, the LORD being my helper. I will endeavor to do so, the Lord being my helper. These words resonated in my heart as I eulogized my uncle on Tuesday. These words resonated in my heart as I prepared for Bible Study on Wednesday and Preaching Class on Thursday, as I coordinated not one, but two, Homegoing Services, as I prepared for Women's Prayer Service on Friday Night, and taught Biblical Attitudes Shaping Bible Study (BASIC) 201 on Saturday. These words resonated in my heart as I struggled to keep my eyelids open and as I laughed hysterically at times in an exhausted state of delirium. These words resonated in my heart as I struggled with my own health challenges that left me lacking energy. Please understand, this is not a complaint. I am so blessed—fully satisfied—in my service to the Lord. These are the honest words of a young preacher trying to get used to the times signature of ministry. This time signature—this rhythm—is sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, and always wildly complex.
I will endeavor to do so, the Lord being my helper. These words resonated in my heart when Saturday evening came and I had no sermon. Let's rewind a bit. I arrived at my parents' house around 3:00 p.m. after an early morning minsters' meeting and a four-hour discipleship class. I was tired beyond belief, so I laid down and closed my eyes for a few hours so that I could be refreshed to write my sermon. I woke up, ate and the sermon was still hiding. I watched a movie with my mother and the sermon was still hiding. In between all of this, I read the text and tried to write. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the sermon was hiding. At around eight o'clock, I decided to shut myself up in my room until the sermon came. I read the text. Still hiding. So I let the audio version of the Scripture play as I ironed hubby and my clothes for church. At that point I figured it was going to be a long night and I might as well be productive. At that point I also figured I'd be preaching from bullet points, the thought of which, admittedly, makes me a tad nervous. Anyway, as I was ironing and the audio was playing the ideas started to flow. I bounced back and forth between typing and ironing until the ironing was done and all I was doing was typing all the while the Scripture was playing in the background. In that moment I was experiencing something that I had heard the old preachers talk about. I now know what the old preachers mean when they say, I feel my Help coming on. In two and a half hours time I had a full manuscript written. It was only God!
As I think about it, while I did not preach Psalm 121, I did live Psalm 121 last week. With all that was going on, I had no other choice but to lift up my eyes to the hills, knowing full well that my help comes from the Lord. I felt my help on Saturday night and on Sunday morning I endeavored to preach, the Lord being my helper...
Title: I Ain't Dead Yet
Text: Mark 9:14-27
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
Paul Scott Wilson, in his highly regarded book The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching writes, "What if people in the church pews on Sunday were to view the content of our sermons as movies that they are seeing in their minds as we speak?" (14). His response is an offering which he calls the metaphor of four pages. These four pages "identify four basic kinds of theological focus" (15). This is not a literal four-paged sermon, but four areas to explore: Trouble and conflict in the Bible; Similar trouble and conflict in our present day; Grace/good news in the Bible; and finally, God's grace/good news at work in our world today. I know some might think that there is no trouble in the Bible, but Wilson remarks, and I agree, "We cannot get to a strong theology of grace except via a strong theology of human trouble. While [trouble is] essential for the first half of the sermon, we simply do not want our tour of it to be the entire journey. Trouble, after all, does not have the final word on faith" (79). Wilson suggests that if you cannot find the trouble (or grace) in a text that you need to wrestle with it some more. Sometimes the trouble is obvious, and sometimes not so much. A great example that I've heard about of not so obvious trouble in a text is the question of the presence of Mrs. Certain, the wife of "a certain man who had two sons" in Luke 15:11-32. We know the tremendous power of a mother's love...What did she have to say when her youngest son left? What did she do? How did she respond to the son who remained at home? What was her reaction when her son, who had extravagant taste and a strong will, came back? Where was Mrs. Certain?
In addition to the four pages, Wilson suggests that when preaching a sermon, for the sake of sermon unity and captivating the listener, that the preacher deal with one text, one theme, one doctrine, one need, one image, and one mission. Sometimes preachers try to do way too much in a sermon and end up being all over the place. As a result, people get lost. Ever try to keep up with a movie that has several plot lines? Difficult, at best. So he underscores the power of ONE in developing a theologically and biblically sound sermon. Choose one text and, for lack of a better phrase, milk it. Choose one theme and be sure that your sermon communicates that theme. Choose one doctrine and explore only that. For example, don't try to explore the doctrine of Christ (Christology) and the doctrine of the church (ecclessiology) in depth. I learned in Chris Boesel's Systematic Theology class that doctrines are not linear, but rather are interconnected in a web, so it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning another, but we can be focused in our proclamation. Choose one need, some issue or concern that people in your congregation might be struggling with. Choose one image. The artist in me thanks Wilson for this. Preachers, don't talk about houses and hands and a journey and glass blowing and...you get the picture. Choose one image to sear the sermon into the minds of your hearers. In my sermon for my Uncle Melvin's service, I used the image of a home/dwelling place from beginning to end. Choose one mission, one action item that you hope that people will do. James admonished us to be doers of the word...what do you want people to do after hearing your sermon? Sometimes the doing is an actual action item and sometimes it is simply changing the way they think.
That is the abridged version of Four Pages... and of all of the homiletical approaches presented during my tenure at Drew, this one made the most sense to me as a way of preparing and presenting the Gospel.
Perhaps because I have been influenced in my current work as a teaching assistant in Doc's preaching class at Drew, I intentionally used this approach when working through Mark 9:14-27. The trouble in the text that I honed in on was found in verse 26:b, "... And he became as one dead, so that many said, 'He is dead.'" The trouble in the world is that many (which other translations call "the crowd") will look at our situations (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially) and will pronounce us dead without being qualified to do so. The grace in the text immediately followed the pronouncement of death, "But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. " The grace in the world is that Jesus takes us by the hand and lifts us up, when we accept His love, we experience resurrection not only into eternal life, but resurrection from seemingly dead situations in our lives. This of course, is a rough sketch. You'd have to hear the sermon to know how it all gets filled in...
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