Preach Magazine Issue 1 - Creativity and innovation in preaching - Page 48

48 FEATURE Equally important in a rhetorical consideration of the discourse of Jesus are the subjects, the details and the local colour. He told stories about bread and yeast and mustard seeds, lost sheep and lost coins, money (paying, investing and taxing it), jealousy and covetousness, squabbling brothers, managers and tenants, slaves and owners, Pharisees and tax collectors, impoverished widows and arrogant judges, children and rich young rulers, wedding banquets and bridesmaids and husbands and wives. In short, he drew widely from the tapestry of first-century rural Palestinian life, with images that are arresting and immediate. They are almost visceral, by which I mean they are heard ‘in the body’, because they speak of things that are seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelt. They are about the everyday felt experiences of his listeners, while lofty abstraction and conceptualising is kept to a minimum. This is too easily given a nodding but noncommittal assent by preachers who have had to reach their ministerial ordination through a university education. If only preachers today would use more ‘vulgar’ language, with fewer Latinate words and more Anglo-Saxon words. Oral speech for preaching, if it is to follow the innovations of Jesus, needs to be spiced with down-to-earth metaphors, language that evokes the five senses, and engaging stories from the time and culture of the listeners.4 Next there are the innovative contexts for the preaching of Jesus. The accounts tell of a range ORAL SPEECH FOR PREACHING, IF IT IS TO FOLLOW THE INNOVATIONS OF JESUS, NEEDS TO BE SPICED WITH DOWNTO-EARTH METAPHORS, LANGUAGE THAT EVOKES THE FIVE SENSES, AND ENGAGING STORIES FROM THE TIME AND CULTURE OF THE LISTENERS. of situations and locations, from synagogues and hillsides, to rooms so jammed that one importunate was lowered through the roof, and lakeside crowds so large and so pressing that the best pulpit was a boat rowed out from the shore. But the teaching he gave in individual encounters tells us something else: it speaks of penetrating insight and spiritual discernment combined with gut level compassion and unbounded mercy. His encounters with Nicodemus, Nathaniel, the Samaritan woman at the well, the rich young ruler and others have given us teaching that is not only validated by the man who gave it, but made accessible for listeners 2000 years later by the immediacy and details of the story. The implication for sermons today is clear: by all means preach precepts, but search tirelessly for the story or illustration of the individual grasping or being transformed by the precept you are trying to teach – and then tell that story skillfully. Can contemporary preachers usefully seek to emulate the innovations of Jesus? In informal surveys of preachers and their formative influences, Jesus is often cited as a role model. Which is fine in a way, except that preachers today do not normally accompany their preaching with miraculous healings and deeds of power, and or have a corpus of teaching that is powerfully validated by their rising from the dead. Nor is my focus on the rhetoric of Jesus very useful if considered in isolation. Jesus was not a wandering rabbi with a vital message and some especially effective communication methods, but the Word of God incarnate, a breathing, speaking, listening, doing being whose ethos validated his logos in ways that are unique in history. His words and his works rippled out in space and time through a group of previously unlearned but Spirit-led disciples. An innovator unique in history is a tough act to follow, but the exciting challenge to preachers today is clear enough: words and deeds go together. Preaching must be embodied and integrated with effective ministry, but thankfully, not all in the lone man or woman. The Body of Christ preaching in the world today is composed of differently gifted diverse members who need to share the family likeness, and who need to be demonstrably and vitally relationally connected. Of course the preacher must ‘walk the walk’, but not alone: the church preaches and walks with words and works that together speak of the glory and redemptive purposes of Jesus, the Great Innovator. Geoffrey Stevenson 1. Wilson, Paul Scott (2004) Preaching and Homiletical Theory. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press. 2. Rohr, Richard. Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (CAC Webcast, December 2013) Accessed 28 August 2014. 3. Stein, Robert H. (2000) ‘The Genre of the Parables’ in Longenecker, Richard N, The Challenge of Jesus’ Parables. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., pp 30–50. 4. See especially Day, David (2005) Embodying the Word. London: SPCK. LWPT8173 - Preach Magazine - Issue 1 v3.indd 48 Geoffrey Stevenson teaches homiletics at New College, Edinburgh and Cranmer Hall, Durham. Before his PhD at Edinburgh he was Director of the Centre for Christian Communication at St John’s College, Durham. He was the editor of The Future of Preaching and the coauthor with Stephen Wright of Preaching With Humanity. 17/10/2014 12:54:09