Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Challenge

Sermons that offer high platitudes, abstract ideals, vague generalities, and trite cliches - all of which are fine to leave "well-enough" alone - lack what we're calling "The Stickiness Factor" in this series of posts (links to the previous posts are included at the bottom of this one).

In contrast, sticky sermons call attention to what's happening "in the fray." They point to a peculiar God, and summon specific people with a concrete challenge that can be appropriated in particular ways.

The specific people I have in mind are those who identify themselves as the people of God - those members of the church who have committed to contribute within the local congregation and are present week after week. These are the people who have embraced the identity and vocation of being Christian as the path to life (the next element, kerygma, will discuss how to address those who don't fit this description).

Those who gather are inundated with other voices during the week. The voices are not those of innocent bystanders, but rather they are the voices of those with vested interest in the dollars, time, and efforts of the Christian believer. And rest assured, in ways that are not nearly as dramatic as the story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness to go the easier way, those voices are promising more for less - all that's required is the embrace of a new, corresponding identity and vocation.

Despite those voices, the faithful return to this God and this community to express their worship and be convinced all over again of the truthfulness of the message we proclaim. All this should serve as notice: the presence of alternative truth-claims about what's real and what is not, each backed up as they are with their own sacred texts and ways of being, reinforces the urgency and boldness required to issue a concrete challenge in the act of preaching.

What I mean by "challenge" is the summons to live in ways that are congruent with the mission and message of Jesus for the world. This concept is unpacked in detail by Walter Brueggemann, who writes, "I understand preaching to be the chance to summon and nurture an alternative community with an alternative identity, vision, and vocation, preoccupied with praise and obedience toward the God we Christians know fully in Jesus of Nazareth" (The Word Militant, 56, italics his).

So I want to offer two ways that the challenge can take shape:

1) Prophetic Redescription
Every member of the church is involved in different levels of accommodation, as it relates to a life-world that is incongruent with the mission and message of Jesus. This should not be automatically attributed to disobedience because some people simply don't know there's another way to think or act in particular situations. In fact, many people have attended the church's worship gatherings for a decade and, because the sermons have simply reinforced the dominant culture of our time (which sociologist Christian Smith has termed, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism"), they have never been made aware of any subversive implications brought about by their identity and vocation as a Christian.

Therefore, to quote Brueggemann again, "The task of the preacher is to exhibit this particular narrative script of the Bible and to show how and in what ways life will be reimagined, redescribed, and relived if this narrative is embraced" (The Word Militant, 32).

2) Public Testimony
This aspect of the challenge takes seriously the pluralism of our day. The Christian message is not the only offer of life that people encounter. The content of the testimony, therefore, must be specific rather than universal, and persuasive rather than disaffected. By specific, I mean pointing to something to which can be concretely known; and by persuasive, I mean explaining the story in such a way that people are drawn into it and want to be a part of it themselves.

Testimony was a central part of the faith communities that are highlighted in the Bible. Over and over again we are met with the instructions to "Tell of God's great deeds." It is, indeed, this peculiar God who creates life from barren wombs (Genesis 21:1-7), sets slaves free from captivity (Exodus 15:20-21), and gives bread from heaven to those starving in the wilderness (Exodus 16:13-18), to name a few things. And so the people of God are called upon as witnesses in a public courtroom, as it were, to testify to any and everyone that "The Lord has done great things for us" (Psalm 126:3).

Christian theology asserts that God is both transcendent and immanent, both beyond us and with us. To leave God "above the fray" is to neglect a major facet of who God has disclosed himself to be. If the immanence of God is neglected long enough, your sermons will divulge into the lofty platitudes that leave people unmoved, unchallenged, and unchanged.

Instead, use your sermon as an opportunity to point to a peculiar God, and summon specific people with a concrete challenge that can be appropriated in particular ways.

Related Posts:
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Interaction
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Tension
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Scripture
Sticky Sermons: Evolution of the "The Stickiness Factor"


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