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Questioning the Sermon

As pastors, if you won’t let God use you to make a new world, through faithful words, then all you can do is service the old one. And that’s no fun. {Walter Brueggemann}

Taking my cue from the Good Bishop Annie, I think it would be a shame indeed to offer trivial sermons about trivial things. The Bible tells a most outrageous story. If it’s true, as I happen to believe it is, then our reality has been redefined; we need new eyes to see our life (and the entire cosmos) in new ways; and – perhaps best of all – hope has truly come, in Jesus.

This means that whenever I go to my work of wading into Scripture’s deep waters, my task is to immerse myself in the Story, to let it up close so that the text’s questions become my questions, so that the characters’ fears and worries and awe find their way into my bones. My aim for the Sunday sermon is not to dumb the text down to a few bullet-points and a poem but rather to open a door where our community can encounter the possibility of a world-made-new.

As I begin to get words on paper for Sunday’s homily, then, I need to wrestle with whether or not my words have any life to them, whether they are faithful to the Story, whether the words have any chance of helping people grapple with God-alive. Here are a few of the sorts of questions I ask to help me discern if I’m meandering in something like the right direction:

Are these words soaked in the Biblical narrative?

Will these words kindle holy imagination?

Will these words give space for sacred discontent, all the while pointing toward redemption and joy?

Do these words tend to our true questions, the deep questions?

Do these words yield to the gospel’s tensions and mysteries?

Will these words ask us to obey, rather than to merely listen?

Do these words live in the here and now, in the world as it actually is?

Do these words find their life and breath from the Living Word, Jesus – and from the Spirit?

Will these words announce – with grace and with boldness – Jesus as Lord over all?

There are more questions – and better ones, I’m sure – but these are a start.

6 thoughts on “Questioning the Sermon

  1. Consciously or unconsciously, I don't read too many personal blogs (as you well know). But, for you, I make a pain-free exception.

    Anyway, just a quick shout-out to say: I am quite helped by these incisive questions. Really. They make me want to deliver a better, deeper, more incisive sermon/homily. And I love the Brueggemann sensibility: making a new world with faithful words.

    By the way, you might recall (if you have the notes) Dr. Guder's series of questions from his lecture on the Scriptures as missionally formative texts at the Ecclesia National Gathering in March. Guder brought it.

  2. …excellent post!

    …this will be shared with the half dozen men I'm mentoring at Denver Seminary

    …and, just landed in Phoenix, will also be share, with due credit, at a conference I'm participating in here

    …keep it comin', Winn

    …and thank you!!!

  3. Nathan, I'm humbled by the exception, I recognize that as a sign of friendship. You're making me want to pull out my Guder notes. I'm going to do that…

    Thank you, Wes. I appreciate the encouragement.

  4. I miss your sermons.

  5. I miss you.

  6. Winn, I follow you on Twitter and want you to know I am inspired by your words. Indeed, I am asking these kinds of questions because I want to open doors where our community can encounter the possibility of a world-made-new.
    Love that! I hear Jesus through you. Thanks for that.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.