Tuesday, August 28, 2007

preach something real, for heaven's sake

Matt pointed out to me last night that I haven't written anything interesting in ages, other than vignettes of family life and vacation and this and that. Point well taken. I haven't really had much of a mind for anything lately. At his, Matt's, behest I have tried to lay aside the endless stacks of PG Wodehouse novels (to which I have been devoting myself utterly and completely) and read a book on preaching, expository preaching to be exact. It is actually an excellent book, when I can read more than three lines without falling asleep. So far it varies from my seminary education in one major way-namely, that the preacher's exegetical work should stick out in the text of the sermon, so that everyone can see it, rather than being worked seamlessly into the sermon's own 'narrative'. The author (hang it all, I can't remember his name, and I'm too pudgy to get off the couch at this particular moment and find the book; I'll try and post it later) believes that the hearer of the sermon, over time, should be trained to be able to test and evaluate the preacher's exegesis themselves, because it is evident in the sermon itself. This approach does move the sermon over and out of the camp of 'experiencing a narrative moment' (what I have heard called "The Preach Moment" (if this doesn't alarm you, nothing else I can say will) and into one of 'teaching', which is, frankly, not at all a bad thing given the state of most Episcopal churches in America today. Every Sunday an empty experience that makes the hearer feel like they've been fed, when, in fact, there was nothing there. On the whole I agree entirely and am even determined to finish the book.

However, it saddens me that things have gotten so bad in the church that I would have to let go of my beloved narrative poetical sermon style. I'm good at it, I'll be honest. I love the process of study and writing and the narrative that emerges. I was considered a fantastic preacher in seminary and my ego grew accordingly. It can be a beautiful experience, both to write and to hear a narrative style sermon and I've been fed by the real substantial narrative preaching of some Episcopal priests who were good at this model. However, it really doesn't work in the ordinary life of the parish. Its too wispy. I've become wispy, I think, in my preaching. It can't all be blamed on the style, of course, I keep having babies instead of doing good solid exegesis, but that is certainly part of it. The church needs more substance, and needs to be able to check the preacher's work against the Scriptures, and needs to be involved in the process of the sermon itself. It has reached, practically, crisis proportions.

Never the less, letting that go and moving onto the greater and weightier task of expository preaching, in the wake of Matt who is, frankly, getting to be excellent at it, will be my task once I have regained some serious lung space and gotten some good sleep. I will keep you posted as to how it goes.


Rev Dr Mom said...

I would love to know the name of the book you're reading.

Judith L said...

With all due respect to your beloved Matt+, it IS the family stories that I find most entertaining. Your conversations with your children and theirs with each other are beyond wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Please limit yourself to gestating and writing about your little, little life.

Anne Kennedy said...

Ann, "anonymous" whoever you are...I pray that God will be with you this evening and that he will bless you.

Anonymous said...

The preacher is most effective when s/he preaches from the heart.

You are a most excellent preacher when you tell the truth of the gospel from your heart.

That means there will be different styles.

Want to be an effective minister of Christ Jesus?

Be true to yourself.

Tell the truth.

Tell the truth.

Tell the truth.

Anne Kennedy said...

Rev. Dr. Mom,
the book is called Biblican Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by one Haddon Robinson.
I'm intending, of course, to get back into the post and put the title, but that will have to wait till tomorrow. Very good writing. Highly recommend it.

Anne Kennedy said...

I just finished a nice section in the book about the importance of the preacher him/herself being formed by the biblical text. Its all very well to be true to oneself, except that very often the preacher is just as off track as the congregation. Its very easy, especially if you can write, to wisk something out that sounds 'authentic' and hangs together but lacks depth or real engagement with the text, because I, the preacher, haven't taken time to myself be changed by the text I preach. This might be fine one or two Sundays, but over time it starves everyone, including me. This book is coming to me at a particularly perfect moment-the kick in the head I need not to be complacent and rely on my present knowledge of scripture. The verse that comes to mind (and blast it I can't remember the reference) from Jeremiah, something to the effect of the heart being deceitful above all else, who can comprehend it. No thanks

Anonymous said...

Well, Ann, if you want to know the truth, here's my best advice:

Do not listen to the heart, it will often decieve.

Do not listen to your mind. It will often lie.

If you want to know the truth, listen to your body.

It will never lie.

This, THIS is why God came among us, embodied in Christ.

The body will not decieve.

The Incarnation is the Truth.

C. Wingate said...

I've suffered a dearth of good preaching of late. We had a supply priest at times whose liturgical style was soporifically monotone but whose sermons were really engaging, and our current priests occaisionally hit one out of the park. But I'm getting way too many "if you look at the social context/Aramaic you'll see that yes means no" sermons.

Are you using the RCL yet? If so, how are you handling the two track summer OT readings?

Micah said...


an interesting summation of your beliefs (after your appallingly shallow first one). most people don't consider using the body as holding some sort of message for us, and i think you might be right to consider it thus.

i would say this, though. if christ was fully human, as well as fully god, he also had a human heart and human mind (albeit, without the hampering sin nature), in addition to a human body, yeah? now i think it's also evident that the human body is affected by sin as much as the mind or heart, perhaps even more evident, given our constant state of decay. thus, even if we do search our bodies for some truth, it's liable to lie to us in the same way our hearts and minds will, won't it?

Micah said...


i like your style. i definitely believe it's possible to do solid biblical work through your vein of teaching. i also believe that your style is an important accompaniment to a hard line exegetical one.

it's like saying poetry isn't valuable for the mind, when it clearly is. there is, of course, a danger--the ability of rhetoric to coat the poison apple with carmel, making somebody feel good about intellectually swallowing something completely out there. but i think there is a lot to be taught and learn through poetry (and narrative). it really is just a different way of thinking. that doesn't mean it's a replacement for analytical thinking.

but if post-modernity has taught us anything, it's that analytical methods are as dangerous as non-analytical methods.

(right matt? ;-p)

Rich Gabrielson said...

"... by one Haddon Robinson."
Anne, there *is* only one Haddon Robinson ;-)

Among the recommendations I've heard or read of teachers of preaching it sure seems like Robinson comes out on top. I agree enthusiastically with his emphasis on exposing the exegesis and have learned much from preachers who have done that.

That said, while exposition presents propositions and exposed exegesis models method I think narrative is an important component for reaching the imagination. I believe it's through the imagination (in the sense of projecting the propositional information into our life situations) that we make the connections that change our lives. Besides, if you've really engaged the text and allowed it to change you, how could that not come out in the sermon? There are truly some things that must be said that can't be put across as propositions or demonstrations of method.


Anne Kennedy said...

Just to jump briefly back into the frey (and thanks to everyone for commenting and reading),

C Wingate: we having gone to the RCL year but that's, I think, just because we've been swamped and haven't gotten to it yet. Which puts me in mind to get on Matt's case and find out what his plans are.

Judith: thank you very much. I have been wandering around after my kids all day waiting for them to say something interesting. All I've gotten, so far is (with deep sarcasm) "Bears don't exist". Not sure why they both believe this, but they do, even after having seen bears for real in the zoo this summer.

Anonymous: Thank heavens I'm not looking for advice. The very idea that our bodies can be trusted, any more than any other part of us, is absurd. My advice to you is to stop looking to yourself and try looking to God.

And on a general note, I do agree entirely that the Narrative style shouldn't be lost entirely. One woulnd't want to swing too far back the other way. And there's no way I'd be able to put it aside for ever because, oh foul vanity, I'm good at it, in general, and so I'll probably always be going back to it, just to satisfy myself. Isn't that awful!

Anonymous said...

I do miss the preaching at GSC, as I've been completely OVERLOADED with FLUFF over here. I'm borrowing some online time via dialup, (scary). I tried sending you an e-mail earlier, but not sure it went through, I'll try again. We're still in Bucks, despite rumours we'd moved to Berks. :)