Most preaching I have heard falls into one of a number of categories:
- self-validating (“We are much better than [insert group disliked]”)
- intellectual gymnastics (“The Trinity is like …”). [As an aside, a sermon on the current state of a theological discussion on an issue is the dullest of all!]
- service agreement (“Because Jesus died for you, you ought to …”)
- just follow the rules (“DO what the Bible/[Authority] says!”)
- carrot and stick (“DO this or go to hell”)
- hyper-grace or fatalistic (“nothing we do does any good so don’t try”)
I have fallen for each of the above when I have preached, especially #3 as a form of emotionally manipulating people into agreeing with me.
I can count the profound sermons on one hand. And these have not been about a theological issue, a doctrinal insight, a new take on the liturgy, or seeing the hidden meaning in a scriptural text.
I find a lot of preaching has no clear purpose apart from that it should be done. And that is apart from the fact that rhetoric is a lost art – there is no development of the argument from point A to point B. And, of course, the preacher has so much to say that they cannot expand any point beyond simply stating a truth.
Or the sermon is seen as an intellectual activity like a lecture where a point of doctrine is the issue. So the sermon becomes an avalanche of information and distinctions, often leaving even the most educated overwhelmed. And the preacher is validated by feedback congratulating them for their brilliance – because, in the end, no one understood a word.
Jesus uses simple stories from everyday life to illustrate his mission and life. He does not invent a new terminology but he gives a new meaning to old language by his life and death. And he doesn’t answer questions no one is asking. His message is simple: love. Love God, love your neighbour, love your enemies.
Anyway, just an observation!