It’s been a busy few weeks; as I mentioned in my latest newsletter, it’s our camp season here, and so I’ve spent seven days out of the last two weeks at our camp site. I was actually due to spend the next three days there as well, but I remembered the whole stress thing and excused myself from it.
The camps went well, although yesterday was a little traumatic. I came back from camp early on Sunday afternoon to be ready to preach at the English service at 4pm and then again at the Spanish service at 7pm. This is why there was no way I could manage another three days of camp straight after. I need to rest. I’m resting in the “change is as good as a” way, by doing some programming instead…
But anyway, I preached a sermon about holiness and then one about gentleness. The holiness one was actually a bit more controversial than I intended; I didn’t intend it to be an attack on Puritanism but that’s how it came out.
I say “that’s how it came out” because when I start writing a sermon I have no idea what’s going to happen. I do my exegesis of the passage that we’re looking at and I see where it takes me. I think, and I hope, this is the best way to do Biblical preaching; I have to try to be open to the Bible saying new things to me, not just things that I already know. If it’s just telling me what I already know, there’s not much point studying it. (That said, it’s hardly a coincidence that I’ve been moaning about Puritanism here and then it “just happened to pop out” of the exegesis I did. Of course my thoughts leak. I’d be crazy to pretend that they don’t.)
So I did not sit down with the idea of writing a sermon about the concept of holiness; I looked at the passage and drew some connections, and maybe God helped inspire me but I can’t say for sure.
Basically, I preach in a completely different way to what was recommended at Bible college. I don’t have three main points; I have no main points, not a single one. Instead I try to preach in quite a narrative way, walking the congregation through the Biblical text and “annotating” it as the sermon goes along, and then trying to pull all the annotations together into a pattern at the end. I’ve been inspired a lot by the theocentric preaching movement, so much so that I often put off the application altogether, and leave people with stories about Jesus.
There’s a danger here that I can end up light on doctrine, but to be honest I find the Bible more of a collection of stories about Jesus than a handbook of doctrine. And given my doctrinal eccentricities from time to time, frankly it’s better for everyone that I try to stick closely to the Bible.
This has been particularly pronounced as we’re going through Mark. I’m going through the book systematically so as to force myself to preach on bits that I would otherwise avoid. There’s a lot of miracle stories in Mark, and they’re actually really tricky to preach. You can take the lazy way out and say “Jesus has the power to heal you, let’s all get healed from our illnesses”, but the Gospel isn’t a book about you, it’s a book about Jesus. There were lots of people Jesus didn’t heal. So you have to look at the pericopes and say “what is this story actually saying about him?”.
The other one was about gentleness. Again, I had no idea that gentleness is God’s tool for handling problems within the church until I sat down and found all the passages that mention it and did the exegesis. So I learn a lot from doing these sermons too. In that sermon, I concluded that it wasn’t a sin to disagree with the pastor. (to a Latin American audience, the pastor seems to have almost a magical connection with God, so I wanted to bring that down a notch.) I’m sure that if there are any glaring problems with how I’ve handled these passages, you guys out there will let me know about it. I give you my permission and encouragement to do so!