William J. Abraham has been arguing for more than a decade that we have gotten Scripture — and other canons of the church — all wrong. Scripture does not exist, he argues, to settle our debates and disputes about truth and doctrine. It exists to help usher us into the kingdom of God. It is, in other words, a means of grace.
Now, one paragraph by me does not do justice to the complexity of his argument or his project. But it does represent the thought that has been knocking around in my cluttered attic of a brain for the last year or so. Today, I am asking myself how I should conceive of the sermon if Abraham is correct that the Scripture is primarily a means of initiating people into the kingdom of God? What then does the sermon do?
I think one implication of this is that Scripture is not — contrary to much preaching advice — a repository of principles or truths that the sermon exists to apply to contemporary life. And yet, the sermon is still closely concerned with how we live.
Paul’s language about being citizens of heaven comes to my mind as I try to work through this. We are citizens of heaven. And yet, we are also still citizens of this world. We are invited through the means of grace to live more and more into our heavenly citizenship. The sermon is one means the Holy Spirit uses to draw us into that.
My mind turns to travel journalism — perhaps because of my past as a journalist. The sermon serves to introduce the citizen of Earth to the strange world of heaven. I see several moves. We learn about this place and life, even perhaps before we learn that we have citizenship papers waiting for us at the consulate. We might learn about it. We might visit as a tourist, hitting the hot spots and major attractions. We might take a deeper step and move in. We live among a community of ex-patriots in this new land, where we gain a deeper immersion than the tourists ever do. And we may eventually go native, becoming foreigners in our former home land.
The sermon is at turns a publicist, a travel guide, a real estate agent, and a mentor into this life in the kingdom of heaven.
All this is too muddled to be very useful or practical. I am not terribly good when it comes to how-to lists. (Hey, I’m an English major.) But these are some of my thoughts today thanks to Abraham, a former life in journalism, and too much time spent in a room with the travel channel on TV.