Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Saying What We See

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"IMG_4705" Image by Stephen Velasco via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


Reading Jesus’ words knowing that they could be the basis of a sermon the Sunday after Election Day in the United States gives me pause. The results of November 8 might very well appear apocalyptic in the eyes of many, with exactly the kind of expected aftermath that Jesus describes. Perhaps you saw the photo on Facebook of the church sign, “Jesus is coming. Hopefully before the election.”

If you are reading this column, it is likely that the second coming didn’t happen. We are still here. We are likely trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after an election cycle that has been contentious at best and at worst, has exposed the underbelly of all that we wish we could pretend did not exist in our world -- xenophobia and misogyny in particular.

Last week I was in Toronto. What occurs in one country matters for the world. We are a global society. To think that what happens across the world does not matter for our own preaching not only eschews our connectivity but also questions a significant theological claim -- God loves the world. This will be a hard Sunday to preach. But you can’t mend arguments and anxieties, tensions and traumas in one sermon, on one Sunday. This is going to take some time. This coming Sunday, the world will still be broken. But the world is also full of God’s grace and love -- and that, I think, is what we must preach.

Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer. We will keep witnessing to the marvelous things that the Lord has done and will continue to do (Psalm 98) regardless of the ways in which it looks otherwise. We just have to.

With only two Sundays left in the year of Luke, we should be clear about one thing which will help our preaching this week -- where and on what your gaze is fixed means everything. Do you see what and whom Jesus sees? If your eyes are locked on only that which is temporary, you might miss observing the permanency of those things that last. If you only see obvious grandeur and splendor, you may overlook beauty in that which first appeared unattractive, even repulsive. If you focus only on the damaging, the destructive, the deleterious, you just might miss what is affirming, constructive, and encouraging.

What you see determines what you have chosen to see. That might give an impression of the obvious, but it’s true. This is not an intentional optimism or a glass half full kind of philosophy. It is the true claim of the true hope we have in God -- our God who is still present and powerful when it looks like the church is powerless in the face of all that seems to be working against the Kingdom of God.

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." What things will we see? In our churches? In our denominations? In our nation? In our world? In one another? Because, what we see is to what we can testify -- to what we will give witness.

And what we see is what we will say. If you see women as objects, you will speak about them as objects. If you see African American people as those who matter less, you won’t speak up for them. If you see God as judge and jury, you will speak about others as deserving of condemnation.

Our testimony, our witness gives voice to what Jesus sees, to whom God sees. God needs us to be the eyes of the Gospel when the world and those who have the loudest voices in it seem only to see the temples and towers and how they are adorned with beautiful stones.

It is awfully hard to testify to what others can’t see. Perhaps that is, in part, the truth behind Jesus’ visions which sound hyperbolic at best, terrifying at worst. Yet, we are called to have a vision that can pierce through what seems to be beyond hope, to testify to the hope we have in God. We are called to have a vision that can perceive the activity of God when it looks as if that which is against God has the upper hand. We are called to have a vision that is intent on seeing what God sees and who God sees -- no matter what.

And when we question how we will testify or where we will find the words for our witness, Jesus reminds us, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

This would be a good week to risk some liturgical rearrangement. Instead of reading or singing the Psalm in its usual location, end your sermon with its words of witness. Invite the congregation to join you in reading or singing the Psalm together. Ending the sermon together suggests that there is no end to but only the beginning of our witness to the marvelous things God has done and the victories of our God.

Testify together to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that no one will be able to withstand or contradict. And perhaps in this act of unity, of solidarity, of shared testimony wounds might start to heal, animosity might turn to amicability, and disaster and despair might lean into a desire and determination for unbridled, unleashed, unabashed testifying of the true victory of our God.

Karoline

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