Ask Questions You Don’t Already Know the Answers To

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Ask Questions You Don’t Already Know the Answers To

Preaching begins with reading and asking questions.  Asking real questions.  Question you don’ already know the answers to.  If you already know the answers they are not real questions.  If you bring these fake questions into your sermon you are just preaching the absorbed reading of the text.  The congregation already knows the answers too.  This then is not a sermon it is an agreement.  At best a patting each other on the back.  At worse it is very boring.  A real question is not an agreement it is an invitation.  It is engaging.  The people maybe confused but they will not be bored.
Some verses seem to make no sense or they seem to contain no hint of the Good News.  If you find the right questions you will find the Good News.  If it scares you or bugs you or dumbfounds you—that is a real question.  If you have to think about it for more than twenty minutes—that is a real question.  If it makes you fall in love, believe in God, feel giddy—that is a real question.
If you could answer all the questions raised in the Holy Scriptures about the one true God of mercy who redeemed the world by allowing his creation to kill him and then made that very murder the means for the salvation of the world, by time you are say twenty years old, or thirty or fifty or a hundred—then you have the wrong god.
Or the wrong questions.

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The Absorbed Reading of the Text

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

The Absorbed Reading of the Text

It is remarkable that someone growing up in the C. C. C. can hear the same Bible stories and have them interrupted in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, Summer Camp, Youth For Christ, Young Adult Studies, Adult Sunday School, Bible Studies, Retreats and Sermons—and hear the same thing said about the same verses every time.
There is no significant variation.  It might start out being told by puppets and flannel graphs and end up being told with acoustic guitars and finally by boring or exuberant white men, but it is always the same.  Over time nearly every text is covered.
It is like a vaccine. It contains just a little bit of the truth; it is given over time until the hearer is inoculated against being infected be the Good News in any text.
By the time a Contemporary Christian is an adult any one of them could teach a Bible Study or lead a Youth Group or preach a sermon.
They have absorbed the Contemporary Christian Culture reading of the text.  One might not even remember studying a particular passage but when they encounter it the Absorbed Reading surfaces.  What is remarkable is that they still are able to continue to think they are encountering something new or something valuable.
There are passages of scripture that Contemporary Christians come to fear because of the absorbed reading. Contemporary Christians read these passages quickly, absently with a nervous smile and darting eyes.  They are only prevented from confronting the horror in them by the evangelical fallacy.  Because if they were to fully considered the absorbed reading of these texts they would be overwhelmed by the hopelessness of state of their souls.  More so they would be overwhelmed by the horror of the God that continually condemns them.  Or they would have to confront the nearly subconscious itching and jerking reaction of their mind to reject them.
With these I have found that it is sometimes best to embody the Contemporary Christians worst fears.  To tell them what they want to hear.  Tell them, it is really all about them and their ability to be good. I preach the absorbed reading of the text hard, like I love it and then flatly call it a lie.  Or when I am brave enough I never call it a lie.  I just preach the horror and give a few clues to remind them that God is not a horrible beast.

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The Preacher Needs to Disappear

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

The Preacher Needs to Disappear
A preacher who is well loved, good looking, and a skilled orator presents the same problem as irritating, unattractive bore.  The Preacher is distracting.  In the same way in is impossible for the people to hear a sermon if the structure, rhetoric and questions they already no by heart makes them conscious that the are being preached to, the awareness of the preacher is a constant reminder that they are being preached to.  This is why the preacher needs to disappear.
The best way to do this is to be somebody else, or to assume a different context for the sermon.  Sometimes the easiest way to disappear is to get bigger.  Become a character that is obviously not you.  Then the people will think.  “This is not the preacher, this is a character.” And they will sit back and actually listen to what this character has to say.  They will not think Pastor Dan says praying more will reduce stress.  That Pastor Dan sure is smart.  Why can’t I be more like Pastor Dan.”
Pastor Dan needs to disappear.

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House of Mercy on the Road in Chicago

House of Mercy on the Road

Debbie Blue, Russell Rathbun and Linda Buturian will be in Chicago at Wicker Park Grace Wed. April 16 to read from their books and talk about the Church they started with their friends way back at the dawn of the Emergent/emergence/emerging movement. Come join the conversation–how does a worshiping community committed to radical grace and liturgical eclecticism sustain itself over time, or what where ever else it may go.

7-9pm, Wed, April 16 @ Wicker Park Grace, 1741 N. Western Ave, Chicago, Up/rooted.city gathering.

Way More Info. Here

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What Sermons Are About

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

What Sermons Are About


Sermons are about Jesus.
You don’t have to mention Jesus.  Sometimes it is better not to.  Hide what you have to, use what ever rhetorical device or character the text calls for, but underneath the sermon must be about Jesus, not you or the congregation or Martin Luther King Jr. or the president. Jesus.

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Why I Lie

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Why I Lie


It is not completely honest for preachers to think they are being themselves while preaching. I can not think this it is just me up in front of the congregation, just talking about the bible, like I would in a bible study or a personal conversation. A bible study or conversation seeks to do different things than a sermon. A sermon is part of a service of worship. It is worship. And worship is not a classroom, a lecture hall, living room or the pastor’s study.
Preaching must be worship and worship is the people coming before God, not the preacher coming before the people. A sermon must be the people coming before god. Encountering god in the text. The text always points to god, is about god. It is about pointing to Jesus in a way that we might all look in that direction and see god reveling god’s self in Jesus the Christ.
So this demands a different kind of speech, speech that seeks revelation and demands a different kind of speaker.
A preacher cannot think she is being unselfconscious in her delivery.
In liturgical traditions vestments are used to make this point. The preacher dons them to say I am not Pastor Doug or Rev. Debbie, I am a Priest. I am the facilitator of this worship of god. I am the Preacher.
For so long I tried to be sincere in my preaching, to make sure that I was not putting on airs or playing a part, but to be the authentic me, talking, really talking in a real way to the congregation. To talk just as I would to a friend.
Why did it take me so long to realize what a lie it was? I am not me when I am preaching. No matter what I tell myself. No speaker is. The situation precludes it. I am not just talking to a friend; I am preaching a sermon to a congregation. It is a specific occasion with particular exceptions on the part of both the hearer and the Preacher.
Why did it take me so long to realize what an unhelpful strategy it is to try and be myself.
If it is truly not possible to be my self while being the preacher then why not spend as much time figuring out who I should be for a particular sermon as I was would worrying about trying to be the authentic me.
So I lie.
In truth I am not really lying. I am acting, embodying, telling a story—I am preaching a sermon. I am not lying unless I think I am really being me.

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Colombo and the Dialectical Method

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Colombo and the Dialectical Method

I refuse to believe that people will not listen to sermons. Yes, it is true that most congregates in most churches can not remember the theme, main points or scripture a sermon was based on by the time they leave the parking lot, but that can not be the fault of the congregation. They are not dumb, lazy, thoughtless, shallow or bad. It can only be the fault of the Preacher and her or his sermon.
There are generally only two things wrong with most preachers—what they say and how they say it. Other than that everything is good. They usually look nice and are pleasant to talk with.
Maybe people stopped listening to sermons for very good reasons. They have heard preachers and they have heard sermons and the preachers always say the same things in the same ways. Mostly both the content and the presentation are inauthentic—not that the preacher knows that. The Conspiracy has indoctrinated the preachers with the absorbed reading and the evangelical hermeneutic to an even greater degree than the congregant. The preacher tells the lies of the C.C.C.C. happily or at least ignorantly.
So people stop paying attention because there is nothing worth spending their attention on. Unfortunately, when something new or true or remotely interesting does come up in a sermon the people will never hear it because they have trained themselves not to listen. They know what the preacher is going to say. But the one person that everyone listens to–pays attention to—the one person whose opinion everyone trusts and believes is his or her own. So a preacher to be successful must engage the hearer in a way that compels them to extract some meaning from the sermon.
To this end I have tried to develop a method that allows people to discover what I want to say in a sermon on their own. This is not easy and does not happen right away. Most of the congregation, I think would report as they were leaving the parking lot that, not only did they not understand what I was talking about but are pretty sure that I did not know either—but they remember the sermon. I try to preach for Wednesday.
To do this I draw on Kirkegaard and Colombo for my methodology. Kirkegaard will sometimes present two opposing viewpoints, arguing both with equal credibility. This, hopefully, compels the hearer to examine and engage the argument. It is also valuable sometimes to present a sermon that contradicts what I am trying to say. The engaged listener then picks up the point by finding fault with my argument. Then the truth is theirs. I did not give them any answers; they had a moment of understanding.
The Colombo Method is taken from Peter Falk’s characterization of the TV detective. Colombo never really solves a crime or accuses anyone of anything, he just asks questions and people confess. Colombo is not at all threatening. He is at best endearing and at worst irritating. He comes off as confused and inept. By admitting that he does not have the answers, people let their guard down. The listener goes from a defensive or disengaged position to a feeling of superiority and amusement. When Colombo fails to pick up even the most obvious fact the listener can not resist pointing it out.
People do not like to be talked down to, but seem to love to be talked up to. Therefore, if in a sermon I say, “What St. Paul is saying to us is…” or “What Jesus means by this is…” well that is standard fair people have heard those phrases many times before. If I say, “What in the world does St. Paul mean by that?” or “Who could ever figure this out?” Then perhaps the listener says to herself, “I can” and they do.
In preparing a sermon using the Colombo Method I first ask myself, “What is the Good News in the Text?” When I discover what I think it is, I ask myself next, “How can I hide it in the manuscript?” Then I go about planing clues throughout the sermon.
If I have done my job, the listener will put the clues together.

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This is Perception Theory

This is Perception Theory

Perception theory says, that when a thing (person, work of art, theory, idea, belief, band, flower) is put into the service of an ideology and that ideology has sufficient power to energize (promulgate, distribute, sell) said thing is no longer accessible.

Or

When something that is cool becomes wildly popular (which means there must be an energizing agent) it is no longer about what it was about. It is about the energizing agent.

Or

Thing + EA = Whoo Hoo!$!$! is < Thing

I know many of you are conversant with the basic formula of perception theory, but I just want to put it down here in preparation for my up coming post, “Why Evangelicals Can’t Make Art.” and “Why it is No Longer Possible to Hear U2, No Matter How Much One Listens.”

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Choosing the Text

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Choosing the Text

OK.  This is harder than you think.  First what is the text.  Where did it come from?  Did you pick it yourself or was it prescribed by the Lectionary?
It is a dangerous thing to pick a text yourself.  What are your criteria for selecting a text?  You have something you want to say?  You have a lesson you want to teach?  You have a point you want to make?  You want to address a particular situation?  These are all wrong reasons to pick a text.  You don’t get to chose what you are going to say the text gets to choose what you are going to say.
Have faith in the text.  Have faith in the Bible.  There is Good News there.  You have to believe it with everything that you have.  Or believe as much as you can with as much as you have.
Use the Lectionary.  Follow a program of prescribed readings.  That way you are free.  You are free to be confronted by the text.  This saves you from the first temptation to manipulate.  Choosing a text on your own always comes with the temptation to choose your subject.  Again you don’t get to choose what you are going to say, the text gets to choose.
That way when some one asks you, “What are you preaching on this Sunday?”  The answer is not, “Redemption,” or “The Christian Meaning of Love” or “Forgiving Your Enemy,” or “The State of Our Heath Care System,” it is Luke 17:1-10 or John 5:23-37.

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The Lord’s Supper As a Revolutionary Act

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

The Lord’s Supper  As a Revolutionary Act

1.        A revolutionary act is unexpected—a surprise.  It is the radical surprise.  The unexpected revelation of the obvious.  Something so ordinary, so taken for granted that when acted upon seems radical.
The sacrifice of Christ is such an act.  This sacrifice, celebrated in the Lord’s Supper is at the same time so unbelievable and so expected.  God gives God’s own life for creation, for the ones God loves.  What parent would not do this?  It is the expected response, but to see it done, actually done, and on such a scale, in such a definitive way is revolutionary.
2.        A revolutionary act includes people, does not excludes them.  The act of communion is often not communion at all but exclusion.  The banquet table in the Kingdom of God is open to all.  It is peopled with those we don’t know, understand or like.  Christ sacrificed once and for all, and when we remember that definitive act of love through the ritual of the Lord’s Supper there can be no qualifications in our invitation to the table.  We should seek instead to find new words, new languages—A thousand new ways of inviting people to the table so that a thousand new people will feel welcome.

3.        A revolutionary act trusts God to reveal God’s self and trusts individuals to reveal themselves to God.  The Lord’s supper generally takes place in the context of the community, in the community worship service.  While this context is purposeful and meaningful, it is still an individual act.  It is the individual’s response to God.  Participation should never be seen as a sign of who is in and who is not.  The Words and prayers before the ritual must never seek to convince or persuade the hearers to participate or not.  The church is called to proclaim the good news.  The church is not responsible to clarify, guarantee or double check on the Holy Spirit’s revelation to individuals.  Nor is it the church’s right to demand some demonstration that the individual has received the Good News.
4.        A revolutionary act is an invitation not a threat.  The revolution of mercy coerces no one, believing the Good News is just that.  Before the communion ritual there can be no threats about the proper attitude of the heart or the sincerity of one’s convictions.  It is hard to always gauge the sincerity of ones own convictions to say nothing of another’s.  Christ says, “This is the blood of the new covenant I make with all of you.”  The heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about widening the circle, expanding the definition of chosen, removing the barriers between them and us.
5.        A revolutionary act is, finally that, an act.  An action.  Not an idea, philosophy, notion or intention—but an action.  Ideas only change the world when acted upon.  We are physical beings in a material world, acting something out makes it real.  When we are asked to “do this in remembers of me”, we are ask to do something.  The remembering does not take place simply in our minds.

Preaching with these things in mind, reflecting these things in the sermon leads to revolutionary preaching.
This is a different kind of revolution.  It is a quiet revolution.
It is a good thing to change the world.

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