Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dwelling on loss verses Dwelling in Loss? by Walter Brueggemann

Good words from Walter Brueggemann via Work of the People.

Three sermons in response to tragedy

Tragedy has consumed the airwaves over the last few months. It is natural that a response to these tragedies would make their way into our sermons. Here are three sermons that do just that. I include one of my own not because I think it is on equal standing with the other two, but because it gives another example of how a preacher might approach the topic. If you know of other good examples of preachers broaching this topic, link to them in the comments or let me know and I'll try to provide a link.

George Mason preaching at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Wilshire provides just a clip on their youtube chanel. Click here to watch the sermon in its entirety

Richard Hays preaching at Duke Chapel in Durham, North Carolina. The sermon starts at the 31.00 mark.

Taylor Sandlin at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas.

Praise and Protest from Southland Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Responding to tragedy

When a tragedy occurs, either locally or globally, the preacher has a choice to make:

  1. Stick with what I've prepared - Sometimes what you've got will work for the present situation. Sometimes you stick with your prepared sermon and address the tragedy through another aspect of the service, for instance, a special time of prayer.
  2. Alter what you've prepared - Maybe all your sermon needs is some alteration to be appropriate to the moment.
  3. Ditch what you've got and go with something totally new - This has its challenges, especially if the tragedy occurs close to Sunday.

How do you decide what to do? I think the decision process involves listening to the Spirit and gauging how close to home this tragedy has hit. Will the people in the congregation be able to think about another topic on this Sunday or will their attention be limited to their own questions concerning this recent event? The closer the tragedy is to home, or the more prominent the tragedy is in the news, helps me determine whether or not I need to alter my sermon for the upcoming Sunday.

I have altered sermons on three occasions that I can remember: The Fort Hood shootings; The Newtown shootings; and the recent tornadoes in Moore. Three sermons out of a decade of preaching is not a lot. So this is not something I do easily. For one thing, I am not an off the cuff kind of preacher. I like to be prepared. But on occasion, I have felt the need to make a change.

In the case of the Newtown shootings I actually re-preached a sermon from the year before acknowledging that that was what I was doing. That took care of the issue of preparation. On the other two occasions, I ditched prepared sermons and preached an entirely new one. In each case, the sermons have been well-received. People are filled with questions during such times and want their pastors to say something. While we may not have any answers to their questions, we can point people towards the God who cares for them in times of great trial.

I'd love to hear from you. When have you made a last minute sermon change? What led you to make that decision? How was that change received? Is there a time you chose to stick with what you had? How did you come to that decision? What are other ways we can acknowledge a tragedy has occurred without altering our sermon?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Preaching as the Packaging of Truth

"Surely an inelegant expression of truth is better than a beautifully expressed falsehood, and even a beautifully expressed truth can be diminished, subtly, if the style upstages the substance. Even so, great truth can be enhanced by its packaging. Otherwise, would we be so deeply affected by insightful poetry, penetrating novels, and great drama?"

J. Philip Wogaman, Speaking the Truth in Love: Prophetic Preaching to a Broken World (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 74.  Buy at Faith VillageAmazon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Good Sermon Gone Bad

This past Sunday, I royally messed up what had been a good service. At least, I ruined the service for my daughter. I was introducing a new family to the congregation. One of their children was having fun going up and down the stairs of the stage. People in the congregation were giggling. I attempted to set everyone at ease with some comments about how much we love children and about how one of my own children had done something funny our first Sunday at the church. I'll leave out the details of that story here because as I soon realized, in sharing the story in full there I had mortified my eight-year-old daughter. She was two at the time of the story, but that did not matter to her. She buried her head beneath my jacket after church, and her tears communicated the hurt I had inflicted on her. 

I felt awful. Not only had I embarrassed her but I had broken my agreement with her. For several years, we've had a deal that I will only mention my children in my sermon with their permission. Most of the time my children consent to a story being used, but when they don't, I find another illustration. Since I prepare early and write a manuscript, this is usually an easy agreement to keep. What got me in trouble this past Sunday was the fact that these were off the cuff remarks meant to put another at ease. That didn't matter to my daughter, of course. I apologized, took her to her favorite restaurant, and eventually was granted a pardon.

Later that day, I decided to amend our agreement. I told them that very often when a writer or a speaker uses someone else's work as a part of his own work, he has to pay that person a royalty or a fee. I told them that not only would I still get their permission before using a story of them in the sermon, now I would agree to pay them a fee for the use of that story. We settled on $5. My six-year-old son immediately said I did not have to ask him. For $5 I could tell any story I wanted! My daughter still wants me to ask permission, but she liked the idea immensely - more I think for the respect it shows her than the money she'll make.

I got the idea from a friend who is the editor of a large Baptist newspaper who would sometimes mention his children in an column. I think he got the idea from another newspaper friend. I like it because it helps me honor my children as actual people and not as simply material for my sermons.  

I wonder, what are your thoughts in including your own children as sermon illustrations?