Theological Reflection Statement
June 10, 2002
The “Six-step Method” of exegesis and sermon design fosters a valuable immersion in the text. As I walked through the stages each week, I experienced my heart and mind becoming more and more attuned to the words of the pericope, even when I was not studying. During drive time, hospital visits, committee meetings, etc., a process was going on in the back of my mind. Sometimes consciously, but often with less awareness, I was seeking to make connections between the word of scripture and the life of the people. I also perhaps listened more “theologically” to the news of the day, and to sentiments and “world views” expressed on TV shows, in movies, and in books I was reading.
The method required more time in isolated study, but I think that, for this very reason, it put me as exegete in a better position to carry out the task of sermon design. The in-depth exposure to language, ancient context, composition, etc., provided rich grounds for fruitful encounter with the contemporary world. Art, culture, and experience can be instruments by which the Spirit speaks, and the method seems to enhance my ability to receive. During the course, a sermon title of Paul Tillich’s (from Jeremiah) came frequently to mind: “Is there any word from the Lord?” I wondered if what I had to say was anywhere close to what the Lord might want to say to this people. Sometimes I thought their responses were Spirit-prompted, in spite of my blundering.
The method enables a “coming at” the text from several perspectives; an approach and re-approach that helps the exegete to “read, mark, and inwardly digest”. The life concerns of listeners are brought onto the holy ground of the Word. When I was truest to the method, I felt it greatly aided in steering between the Scylla of mere textualism, and the Charybdis of anecdotalism. During the weeks of the project, the congregation experienced typical events and challenges: illness; questions about the world situation; kid troubles; the death of a beloved member. Our ability to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is related to our sense that the proclaimer understands and cares about what is going on in our lives. Nowadays, the proclaiming and receiving of the word perhaps constitute a more organic and corporate experience than in other historical periods.
I cannot say that my preaching has improved, because I am not sure what that means. What makes for a good sermon, anyway? The value of reflecting on “intended purposes” (step VI) is that it caused me to wrestle with these fundamental issues. “Why preach?” “What’s supposed to happen here?” The transforming word happens in unpredictable ways, and is beyond our control. I am called to faithful proclamation, to the best of my ability.
The course work was done during some of the most turbulent weeks of our nation’s history, but one could hardly gather that from reading my sermons. Concerns about terrorism were, and are, pervasive. But the greater evil is the stifling of our democracy at the hands of those who should be its stewards. The Christian community for the most part either does not care, or else gleefully embraces this crushing of basic freedoms. Why is the pulpit silent? And why does the faith seem to have so little power to awaken our numbed and fearful psyches to this clear danger?
The course gave me a sense of renewal and possibility in my own practice of ministry. I am encouraged to listen with new attentiveness: to text; to the community of faith; and to the culture through which the Spirit also speaks. At the intersection of text and life dwells the Word, communicating Christ’s presence to us, and helping us to recognize ourselves in that same presence.