Sunday, May 20, 2007

John 17:20-26 - "Through Their Message"

7th Sunday of Easter (Year C - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20, 2007


For the first time in my seven years as a pastor, and really going all the way back to seminary and vicarage (internship), I preached a sermon without any written manuscript. Let me clarify: I have preached without a manuscript in the pulpit, used only notes, spent time away from the pulpit without any notes, etc., but I have ALWAYS written out the manuscript. I have ALWAYS wanted to have a written version of what I said. I like having a written version, as evidenced by this website.

However, given the fact that I was writing the sermon for May 19 & 20 while trying to adjust to our new household of a 3 year old, 1 year old, and a newborn (born on May 12), I "wrote" the sermon in my head while changing diapers, feeding the baby, playing with the older kids, etc. I had the sermon in my head--including how to use my props of a ladder, signs, and string--but I had precious little time to actually type out what I was going to say.

Therefore, I climbed the ladder without a manu-net (manuscript). You can listen to the audio of the sermon, however. After all, this is 2007 where a written text isn't always necessary. You can stream the audio through a newly created page by our webmaster, Walter Lukitsch. Click here and play the audio with your favorite media player (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.).

However, let me explain. The sermon begins on top of a 10-foot ladder. I preach from up there until I start handing out spools of string--all attached to the top of the ladder. The keywords in the beginning of the sermon were scrawled in black marker on poster board, and as I rejected the sentiments, I cast off those posters like Bob Dylan in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (mimicked by INXS with "Meditate").

In our June/July newsletter, I spent a little more time explaining my thoughts behind constructing a sermon in this way. It wasn't just because I was busy at home. The props helped me create a structure (flow, narrative) to the way I was preaching, and the props--I hope--draw attention to the Word of Truth that is our focus.

From the Redeemer Lutheran Church June/July 2007 Newsletter:

On Wednesday, May 2, I attended the Day of Homiletical Reflection at Concordia Serminary, St. Louis (my alma mater). Homiletics is the big, fancy word for preaching, and this annual, one-day conference brings together pastors and students to hear speakers about the art of preaching. This year’s main speaker was Leonard Sweet, a leading name in postmodern Christian circles. His books include The Gospel According to Starbucks which uses the Starbucks experience as a metaphor for a rich life connected with Christ. Sweet’s presentations were very challenging in how different he sees what sermons will be like in our technological, post-postmodern, interactive, searching, post-Christian world.

I also attended a session by Rev. Tony Cook, Director of Educational Technology at Concordia. He spoke about the use of visuals in preaching. He compared the idea of images to letters. Letters are image codes for words, and if we have learned how to read the language used, we understand those image codes. In that same way, our world is full of visual codes in the form of pictures, art, logos, and more. Cook encouraged us to harness that level of communication in our preaching.

The reason I would say this Day of Homiletical Reflection wasn’t just one day is because I’ve been thinking about all of these things ever since. It was a lot to process in one day, and I continue to go back to the discussions as I contemplate how to craft future sermons. I hope I have never acted as if I had this preaching thing all figured out, and I hope I never feel like I have it figured out. Preaching is a constant learning process—learning God’s Word, how to communicate God’s Word, and how to understand the listeners.

Perhaps you were in church on May 19 and 20 when I preached a sermon on John 17:20 called “Through Their Message.” It was the sermon I partly preached from the top of a ladder—-emphasizing that the Church isn’t a top down organization with a small group of leaders who have all the power. The only One at the top is Jesus, and we are all connected to Him through faith—-equipped to share that message with others.

The ladder was an important visual code—-immediately getting us to think of climbing the ladders of success, the way powerful people seem high above us, but then I used spools of string to show that we’re directly connected to the top, to Jesus. I said, “You may not like when I climb on ladders or use spools of string in my sermons, but the reason I do this is to get your attention—-attention on the incredible faith that Jesus gives us.” That is something I learned from the Day of Homiletical Reflection: visuals are only effective if they are used to powerfully point to the truth of God’s Word.

Yet, another important thing happened during that Sunday sermon, something I hadn’t anticipated. Leonard Sweet had talked about how he designs his sermons to be interactive-—encouraging congregation members to add their thoughts during the sermon and allowing those thoughts to shape the sermon itself. I am still not exactly sure how that fits within our tradition, congregation, and worship service, but it happened anyway.

When I handed one of the spools of string to Don Hafeman as an example of how he is connected to Jesus through faith, Don saw where I was going with the sermon. Before I could even talk about how there is more string on the spool, that Christ gives us a faith to share, Don was passing that spool of string back. I looked over and saw this string stretching from pew to pew, from person to person. I hadn’t planned that, but Don contributed to the sermon to clearly show what the Word of God is teaching us: Jesus has prayed for the people who will believe through our message.

I’m not done learning about how to preach and how to communicate God’s Word. I ask for your continued prayers—-prayers every time Pastor Miller or I step into the pulpit—-that God’s Word will be clearly and correctly taught. However, I also ask that you will keep growing and learning how to hear God’s Word and how to communicate it in your own lives.

Because preaching is a passion of mine, that means I love to talk about it. If you ever have questions about what I preach, why I said something, why I did a certain thing during a sermon, please don’t hesitate to talk to me. Misunderstandings (on either side) can often be cleared up with conversation, and as I said, I want to keep learning. You sharing your thoughts continues to shape how I preach and communicate God’s Word to you.