What does this article tell us that can inform the way we think about preaching?
The article is about the TV series Marvel: Agents of SHIELD. The point of the article is that the series had to spend time “building a world” before it could start to do really fun, deep, and interesting things that some of the audience has been waiting for the series to do.
It made me wonder how much preaching is like building a world. How much of it is constructing a coherent story about what the world and helping the people in the congregation see themselves as living in that world?
I think Walter Brueggemann would say that is precisely what preaching is about. He writes that each Sunday when the congregation hears the word read and the message proclaimed the question hanging in the air is whether the people will be formed by the world the story tells or be formed by the story the Bible tells. Preaching is world building.
If this is so, then the insight of the article about the TV show might have a lesson for us. You can’t go off on wild adventures in a world until you have established the basic contours of the place and the major characters. You have to establish the basics first. (There is a metaphor here about jazz and music, but I’m not musical, so I’ll leave it to someone else to make.)
It leaves me with a question about whether I’ve got the basic world building in place for the congregations in which I preach. Have I helped them see and describe the world the Bible builds for them? If not, what do I need to do? Where are the fuzzy places and undeveloped characters in God’s story? How can I make God’s world real enough that the real adventures can begin?
I appreciated this post by Teddy Ray that includes three things that every sermon should include:
- It preaches Christ
- It proclaims a gift
- It invites a response
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. (Luke 3:10, NIV)
In Luke’s gospel, we see John the Baptist answering the “so what” questions. Here we see him giving the people the application to go with his exposition.
What should we do?
If you have two shirts, give someone who is naked. If you have more food than you require, give some to a person who is hungry. If you have power, do not abuse it for your own advantage.
John did not limit himself to speaking about God but what we should do. He got into people’s personal business. He said you can judge a person’s heart by what they do with their stuff.
And he did not edit his sermons to please the powerful. Herod’s sexual immorality and “all the the other evil things he had done” came under the prophet’s rebuke. Such preaching landed John in prison. It eventually cost him his head.
Perhaps if they had given him a pulpit and congregation, they could have calmed him down.
Skip to about 13:40 on the clip below where Will Willimon tells the story of how one church failed to reach a family in crisis and a different church had success.
“You Methodists were offering me aspirin. I needed massive chemotherapy.”
I was reading John Wesley’s journals today and came across a reference to him preaching from Revelation 20:12 to a crowded house. Not having memorized Revelation, I looked up the verse:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (NIV)
The journal entry was from 1789, a couple years before Wesley’s death. And here he was preaching still on the question of eternity. It was the guiding star of his preaching from the beginning. His introduction to his first collection of published sermons included one of my favorite bits of his writing:
To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing — the way to heaven; how to land on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!
I often find myself wondering what it would be like to live with Wesley’s attention to eternity, to see every moment of this life in light of eternal life.