Over the nearly sixteen years when I was preaching two new sermons every week, I dipped into the Revised Common Lectionary only sporadically. Typically I’d turn to Lectionary texts for Advent or maybe for Lent, especially if I had no fresh ideas for a sermon series. However, since coming to Calvin Seminary seven years ago, I use the Lectionary every week as the basis of the sermon-starter articles some colleagues and I have been posting on the Center for Excellence in Preaching website every Monday morning.
In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) yearns for something better. But, beginning with his father’s untimely death, circumstances beyond George’s control thwart each of his plans to escape the runty town of his birth. George doles out his life helping small people live their small-town dreams. All the while, he believes he is missing something. He longs for something more, something exotic and adventurous, and audiences all over the world have identified with his longings for more than sixty years.
There it stands, so innocent, at the front of the sanctuary. Yet whether it’s a modern Plexiglas lecturn, an elevated baroque booth, or a humble music stand, the pulpit should come with a “Danger” warning label. Externally, the preacher must contend with spiritually toxic fumes that collect around the pulpit; internally, there is a fire.
Historically, Christians have used some verses from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering to figuratively bludgeon Jewish people. But does our awareness of this historical misuse of Scripture make any difference in the way we plan and lead worship, especially during Lent and Holy Week? Can we apply some principles to dealing with those “troubling tellings” while still taking the Scriptures very seriously?
Football season is either long over or a long way off—depending which direction you are facing on the calendar. But watching college bowl games during the 2010 season got me thinking about preaching. (Try telling that to your elders!)
What is the goal of preaching? According to John Calvin, the highest purpose of preaching is to give glory to God. But the act of praise is never a preacher’s solo performance—he or she seeks to edify the body of Christ as well. In preaching and in leading, the pastor seeks to call people to faith in Jesus Christ, grow the congregation’s collective commitment to holiness and righteousness, and increase their awareness and understanding of their role in the kingdom of God.
There on the pulpit, my sermon was dead. Again. It was just too much: too heavy, too complicated, too cumbersome. It had given up its Holy Ghost. But I carried it up there to preach anyway. The truth is, after twenty years of preaching, I got lost for a while, and I preached a lot of roadkill.
For the sake of my soul and for the souls of my hearers, I’ve identified three forces from within and without that were killing my sermons before God made me able to breathe life into them again.