What’s the task of the preacher? Is she/he the comforter of the church? Is she/he to be the critical voice of social transformation? Is the preacher the person who is to answer the questions of day-to-day practical life from a religious perspective? Is the preacher the authoritative voice speaking the words of God?

Does my questions reflect the age-old question of a priestly and a prophetic role. Of a pastoral and a prophetic role. I recall that Moltmann said somewhere that the church have become so pastoral that it has lost it’s prophetic voice. But ain’t the church supposed to care for the flock? But which flock? Is the flock that’s paying your salary by default the flock that you should care for? When do we turn prophetic? Is there a danger in being a prophetic voice? Maybe we are too quick to think of ourselves as prophets, to quick to preach social transformation, I mean, do we really understand what social transformation should look like?

But saying that we should be slow on the prophetic voice closes a large portian of the text that we hold sacred for preaching. Can the preacher do anything but preach the text? Open the text? Well, we are sure busy doing more than this…

Dialogue in Preaching

June 2, 2008

In the Reformed tradition we talk about the dialogical nature of the liturgy. God speak, the congregation speak, and the preacher speak, sometimes on behalf of the congregation, sometimes on behalf of God. In practice, only the preacher speak, doing a monologue, and the congregation sometimes get a chance so say what the preacher want them to say.

I don’t have a problem with high-liturgy services, and especially like participatory liturgical expressions more and more. So what I’m writing is not really about liturgy, but only about the act of preaching. Preaching, more than any other part of our church tradition, has been only monologue. We attempt to bring in some dialogue into our informal church service, but usually it’s only the kids who take part. Now, it’s an amazing way to make the kids part of the service, but it’s actually just an add-on, and not really a dialogue starting.

Dialogue is not an easy thing. I’ve had many thoughts in this in the past (see posts on the round-table church here or here), but more and more I realize that the utopian ideal of having 57 people coming together in a round table conversation and everyone sharing an equal amount is just that, utopian. More than that, I don’t neccesarily think that the “postmodern” which we like to talk about neccesarily want to always say something, sometimes listening is OK. I’m learning this more and more from friends who I consider natural experts on a postmodern worldview.

But still I get this very uncomfortable feeling when doing another monologue, another sermon. Yes, good things happen, I sometimes get good feedback, and yes, sometimes (as one of the people on our church council said the other night) people actually do what we preachers say. But for me it’s personal, I simply can’t get this nagging feeling that I don’t like doing a monologue out of my system.

Last night Tiaan visited, and myself, Tiaan, and my flatmate again started talking about various possibilities or having some kind of discussion (we don’t really like the idea of starting churches currently) going between 20/30-something people. This resulted in this group being created. So again I started thinking about my monologue discomfort.

Suddenly I had this revelation, not yet sure whether it was one of foolishness or wisdom, or maybe the logical result of past experiences. Abvout two weeks ago by collegue and friend, Roelf, came in to visit us at our 17-20 year old youth discussion group. We were talking about what our task is on earth, and in a very natural way, myself and Roelf started discussing this. The group of young people listened to our discussion, and when Roelf left we continued the conversation.

Maybe this would be a good preaching style. Never having one person preach alone. Always use two or more, and let them have a dialogue which can serve as base for large-group conversations if you’d like. These two people would plan there sermon together, but not as a little drama, simply talking about the issue at hand, maybe putting some ideas on paper which they would consider important. By asking each other questions, and responding to each other, and adding to each other, they would introduce a topic in a conversation style, a style I think I’ll be much more comfortable with than the monologue we are used to.

Have anyone tried this? Could this work for preaching?

Another idea I had a few weeks ago, and which would hopefulle be used somewhere next term, is to get some people together for coffee before a sermon. Talk about the topic, explain the idea, formulate some questions, and at the end make a 5 minute video conversation where some of these questions and thoughts are talked through in dialogue. Then use this as a started in church.

I preached on Genesis 11:28-12:9 on Sunday. I started preparing real early, reading Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary on Monday, and Von Rad’s shortly after, but never quite got around to making the sermon. I knew what I wanted to say though. God call Abram, promise to bless him, but in the same breath call Abram to also be a blessing to those around him (see some thoughts in Afrikaans here). God call Abram, but he doesn’t call him out of this world, but to be wholly part of this world (see some more thoughts in Afrikaans here). In Genesis, it is the creator God who now become further part of the creation-gone-bad by calling Abram, and by becoming involved with human history.

But last week we again had two armed robberies on houses in our congregation. In one the people were wounded, in the other a man was killed, leaving behind a wife and kids. Shot in the head when he wanted to press the alarm button. This happened on Friday evening, on Saturday I finally got around to finalizing the sermon. Furthermore, the reports on Zimbabwe started coming in, I blogged on that here while I was preparing the sermon.

How do we preach in this context? What do we say? As I said to the congregation at one stage: In church many would say we are not supposed to talk politics. But in this context, and reading the story of Abraham, I cannot do other but talk politics. But politics isn’t about who is right and who wrong, I never spoke about Mugabe for example. Maybe what we call politics in the church, is actually just ethics. Public Theology.

I believe the message, even for this hurt congregation, and believe me, our congregation, and community, is hurt. The violence have been going on for weeks now, every week the reports come in, for this congregation also, the message is that we should bring hope. There is a message that God bring hope to the world, but the other side of the coin is that God bring hope through us as well.

We need to preach on South Africa. We need to preach on Zimbabwe. Telling the stories of the people there, telling the story of the Bible, realizing that the story of the Bible is forcing us to, in some way I don’t understand yet, take part in the story of suffering ongoing around us. Our congregation is starting to talk about our role, a missional role, in the context of violence around Kameeldrif.  It’s not a new conversation, but we took it upon ourselves in all earnesty. I’ll be getting together with Arthur tomorrow to have some talks on Zimbabwe. What is the role of the church in a time like this? What can we as a church do?

 

A lot can be said concerning Christians gathering on Sunday mornings (and sometimes evenings) for some form of a primary worship event. In spite of critique concerning what happens, about the so called hypocrisy of those who attend, or the comercialization of the service, fact is that still thousands attend. What is happening in this hour is for most people still their primary understanding of “church”. So on a positive note: think potensial. What is the potensial if this hour could really be done in a way that give people an idea of the kingdom of God.

This was my theme for Sunday’s service. Actually a difficult theme, concidering that I didn’t really consider Sunday mornings to be a missional activity, not in the sense of a “seeker” type of setting. Rather, I considered what happened the rest of the week, wherever members of our community went, to be the missional part of a congregation. Reading Patrick Keifert’s Welcoming the Stranger helped form my thinking on this, attempting to point the way towards something that is both worship and missional.

Sermon came from Luke 24, Jesus’ journey from with two disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Starting out on the journey, Jesus is called a “stranger” because he pretends not to know about the crisifixion that took place in Jerusalem 3 days before. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the disciples must be the strangers, since Jesus was the one who actually knew what happened, and they didn’t understand. So Jesus start explaining everything to them. I’ve many a time wondered why Jesus didn’t just pop up and say “hallo! this is me!”, rather, a softer approach is followed, and little by little they are introduced to the ideas that would change the world for ever. And then, with the breaking of the bread, they suddenly realize who is it that was journeying with them…

I think our worship gatherings is a lot like this. It is also a journey, and everyone who join on a given occasion take part in this journey. I don’t think the preacher is neccesarily the Jesus figure, rather that on this journey we become Jesus figures for each other, and in the relationship between us, Jesus appear to journey with us. The challenge of our times of worship is to be able to do what Jesus did. To journey with people, slowly introducing them to what we are doing, in such a way that they can understand this. The dream is that we can see people connect to God, to their community, and to an alternative community in our worship times.

And the end of the story of Emmaus is people connecting with an alternative community, a community which radically changed the world, by radically doing what Jesus would have. Just a thoughtin spite of all the criticism against the institutional church, recently I’ve started thinking: “What would happen if 1000 preachers in 1000 Dutch Reformed congregations of South Africa start to preach the Kingdom of God on Sundays?”. Think potensial!