yesterday i had the opportunity to speak on 1 corinthians 1:26ff at the gathering. on saturday i did a fair amount of research on 1st corinthians and, as a result, felt that i had a pretty solid understanding of the text. however, when i tried to give shape and structure to my message early sunday morning, i felt the text slipping through my fingers like so many grains of sand. on account of these conflicting experiences, when i stood up before the gathering on sunday, i felt simultaneously slathered in unction and rhetorically retarded. i knew i had something to say, but i had no clue how i was going to say it.
for this reason, i carefully preempted my preaching with a disclaimer that sounded something like this:
"for so long i have wanted to be able to preach a sermon that resounds like peter in acts 2. a part of me would love to stand before you and pronounce something similar to peter's punch line: 'God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!' however, instead of peter's bold propositions, i usually find myself sharing with you only the most provisional thoughts, ideas that emanate from wrestling with questions far more often than they spring forth from certainty. so i hope you don't mind me standing before you today and giving you a glimpse of the way i have wrestled with this text and how, in the end, this text has served as a sort of theological lens through which i have tried to interpret the experiences i had in the streets of salem this halloween."
i have little doubt that my characterization of my sermon as a provisional musing has derived from cadences of home: preaching among exiles, a remarkable little book by walter brueggemann that i've recently been reading. in one of the chapters of the book brueggemann makes a case for testimony as a fitting form for contemporary preaching. such testimony, brueggemann suggests should: render Yahweh as credible by linking our renderings to "real life circumstance;" speak about Yahweh as an "accepted, assumed, embraced Character who belongs invariably and without question in the middle of the narrative;" and suggest that Yahweh is so indispensable that "if one omits Yahweh from the tale, the tale collapses into nonsense."* brueggemann believes that this fragile, contextual proclamation makes far more sense in our cultural context than propositional preaching which, by its very form, suggests not only the existence of absolutes but also a shared, empirical epistemology through which, presumably, a community can observe defined phenomena and arrive at a singular conclusion.
undoubtedly many in the biblical preaching/big idea camp that i was reared in would warn that brueggemann's homiletic - if we can even speak of his musings as such - is so full of holes that it would immediately capsize an evangel into the pluralistic, postmodern seas. however, as i read it, brueggemann's homiletic gives me hope that even paper mache sermons such as mine might occasionally catch the winds of the spirit and be directed towards safe, if unsuspecting, harbors.
in the hours since i stood before the gathering, i've realized that my life is just as provisional as the sermon i just preached. although i usually live as though the unexamined life is the only one worth living, in rare moments like these i am by turns grateful for and terrified of the life of self(ish)less service, provisional sermons and reticent, if resplendent, relationship that lies before me.
yet tomorrow, heart-full and spiritually stunted, i plan on putting this paper mache back out to sea. by God's grace, i'll raise the sails and she'll blow where He wills.**
* Ibid, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, pg. 43.
** no, you know that's not what i mean. get your head out of the gutter. wait, i didn't mean that head and that, oh forget it. so it is written.
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