Preaching: Content and Structure

I’m fiddling around with tomorrow’s sermon. I have a heap of points that I want to make, but “points” are cheap; anyone can meander around and hit a few points, valid points, if you allow enough time.

A standout sermon will pick up some of the same “points” that a more casual sermon touches on, and will order them in a way that strengthens the convincing power of each, and integrates them into a vision of the whole gospel. Here’s a significant weakness of much “justice” homiletics; many preachers walk through a relatively predictable series of points about inclusion, equality, poverty, and liberation, without structuring the sermon so that these carry more weight than “a bunch of things that Christians think are good [or ‘bad,’ depending].” Theologians didn’t simply discover justice and liberation in the 1960’s, and the theological significance of these themes ramifies through more stories than only the Exodus, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus, and so on. “Justice” absolutely constitutes a cardinal theological theme — but we only enfeeble our preaching when we don’t make strong connections with the whole of the gospel. (And it’s not only “justice” preaching — one could say the same thing about “the tradition” or any of countless other homiletical themes).

We preachers often care so much about our points that we neglect the vital importance of integrating them in a coherent, intelligible, convincing structure. That’s a more complex task, and we don’t always do it well even when we try. But (as my students will acknowledge), the gospel is more complicated than just the points, and we best serve the whole gospel when we attend not only to its fruits, but to its roots as well.

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2 Responses to Preaching: Content and Structure

  1. I think all is well when your ‘points’ are like cacti needles, tiny points that prick the skin and are often not even noticed, not until much later when the ‘points’ begin to throb for attention.

  2. Rev. Kevin A. Doty says:

    I quite agree. I think attention must be paid to not only the ‘points’ but in the whole structure. Practically speaking, it seems to me that our job as preachers is to figure out where we are together theolgically, both the preacher and the congregation, as we stand before this text. The points being made must take us from that point, where we find ourselves rooted. Then we are uprooted by the text and led through successive ‘points’ to the fruits that God through the living person of Jesus Christ is both calling and claiming us to be and do as God’s faithful people.

    If we are not “coherent, intelligible, convincing” then we are not doing justice to God’s very word as it comes to us, even the preacher, in the act of preaching by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

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