Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Subverting the Sermon

The sermon, as a form of religious discourse usually involves the presentation of a problem of some sort, followed by the solution to the problem that is presented. The preacher may even take the audience down a chaotic road, leaving the people listening in suspense for a while, but in the end tie up all of the loose ends and restore order to the situation. The preacher will offer propositions that she/he deems to be truthful and simply require agreement with the propositions on behalf of the listener. As a result, by the end of the sermon the audience will know exactly what to think about the issues that were addressed and will leave with more conceptual knowledge than they had prior to hearing the sermon. The people will leave knowing more and possibly even be able to articulate their recently acquired knowledge to others they come in contact with. Often, this ends up being a kind of regurgitation that is able to take place without the message that is within the newly acquired knowledge ever sinking in and actually transforming the carrier of this knowledge. This person might leave these gatherings knowing more without actually having to wrestle with the implications that flow from that which they have required. Often this leaves the Church with people who might  “know” quite a bit about Christ, without truly engaging in the process of laying their life down in a Christ-like pattern.

An alternative way to approach the sermon is to see it not so much as an opportunity to tie up all of the loose ends for the audience, but rather as a provoking act. In this approach, the goal is not that the audience would leave knowing anymore, but instead that they would leave having to wrestle deeply with the questions or issues that were presented. Whether it is done by stories being told or profound questions being raised (to name a couple possibilities that could function as the provoker), the listener may leave the gathering where the sermon is taking place without knowing anymore, and possibly even having to question things that they thought they already knew. But, it is in this space where the receiver is now forced to wrestle with issues presented, and really, wrestle with God. It is this encounter with the reality of God that is facilitated through the wrestling being done in response to the provoking of the sermon that holds the greatest potential for transformation to take place. As a result of this encounter, a person does not come away knowing more (conceptually), but rather comes away knowing God more (relationally). The sermon functioning as a provoking act subverts people’s desire for instant gratification and the need to know more and instead invites them into an ongoing dialogue with the One who has the ability to transform them so they can be more. Very little is required of the one who leaves simply knowing more; but everything is required of the one who leaves and bravely wrestles with God without knowing who they will become as a result.

1 comment:

  1. Have you been so quiet for two years because you're giving sermons instead? What happened to you? Hopefully you're still writing... Your vision is needed! Please consider keeping your virtual friends in the loop on your developing ideas, as well as thoughts on your own process of becoming, which I assume is coming along quite nicely, to understate it.