It is natural to face barriers. Some of them are rather large. Obstacles and distractions have always gotten in the way of things we are trying to accomplish. We can not overcome barriers on our own. This is true even in preaching. We could pretend that they do not exist but it is likely more helpful if we admit that they are real and engage in conversation about them. While we acknowledge that discussion will not eliminate these barriers, we can start a helpful dialogue with a text that does not think any barrier too large.
Our text is from Luke, both the Gospel and the Acts. We discover here a text that is all about breaking barriers. We find a long list (including virginity, barrenness, hometown crowd, ethnicity, gender, language, hecklers, executioners, government, snakebite, ship wreck, prison, wealth, poverty, illness, and geography) where Luke tries to get across to readers that there are no barriers too big for God. Not one of these is able to halt the announcement of Good News.
We hear this from the start as Gabriel shows up with the announcement “nothing will be impossible for God.” By the time we get to Acts, Luke wants us to realize that barriers are just a natural part of the journey. Yet, these barriers are unable to stop the announcement of Good News as he keeps repeating things like “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly.”
There is still a significant list that we could develop that spell out barriers to preaching effectively. Among others; the influence of culture, audience disinterest, or displaced priorities. We know what obstacles are like. We may not be able to overcome barriers on our own. But Luke wants us to be aware that we do not have to. God is an active participant in the conversation that we call preaching. Luke wants us to know that God has entered and is speaking.
This weekend I am participating in a conversation with friends about preaching. We will explore texts and ideas. We hope to spark a conversation about text and preaching that becomes an ongoing dialogue. We hope to encourage a sense of working together as colleagues in sermon preparation.
Our conversation will provide a forum that emphasizes the importance of preaching. We will utilize our time by looking at a particular section of scripture, discussing the importance of text, and exploring sermon ideas.
We will begin by stepping into the text. We will listen carefully. We will ask preliminary questions. On this occasion, our text comes from Genesis. In Genesis, God sets great things in motion – and we are invited to participate.
We will move on to wade a little deeper. To look more carefully at our text. From the start, Genesis tells of a reality that we would know nothing about – except for these words. We will explore God’s creating activity. Not only the creation of a world, but of a people to glorify the Creator in that world. We will discuss potential sermons that rise up from the Genesis text.
From there, we will follow the text. We will not assume that we know this text. Instead we will allow the text to pull us along wherever it leads. We will be reminded of ways that the text knows where we live. We will share sermon ideas with one another. And although we will leave this gathering, I hope that we will not leave the conversation.
I suppose that most of us who read scripture with the intent to communicate its message to others may have at some point been interested in what others have had to say and how they say it. Someone along the way has opened scripture up in a way that calls out to your soul. Having said that, it would serve us well to spend more time with such people. After all, there is some reason that you find yourself drawn to the way that particular preachers, writers and interpreters communicate truth.
(I would not limit this exercise to preachers. Obviously, it would benefit anyone to latch onto someone who speaks to their soul and read anything you can from that writer).
If one of your professors encouraged you to find such a person and make them a lifetime companion, you were blessed with a wise professor. (I am thinking of the way that Thomas Oden talks about John Wesley). There are benefits of such a practice. It is a constant reminder that you do not walk alone. Conversations with the printed page will likely lead to disagreement and debate. They will also lead to encouragement and affirmation. As a result, these conversations will guarantee that you will be less boring.
To liven things up even more, become acquainted with a preacher from another tradition. Wesleyans, pick up something from someone in the Reformed tradition. Someone who will stretch you, cause you to think. Someone you will converse with and who will challenge you. Learn from this preacher. Wrestle them, laugh with them, walk along with them in the labor of the Kingdom. Of this we can be certain – You will become more interesting.
Such an exercise will be good for the soul. It will revive your imagination. It will help you to become more aware of your blind spots. It will expand and challenge your limited perspective of the Kingdom. It will remind you that you haven’t figured God out.