One of the things that I get to do on a regular basis is preach a sermon. Sermons provoke various expectations (such as, ‘this will be boring’) but perhaps the most dangerous is that I am the ‘expert’ with a level of theological knowledge that the congregation cannot hope to aspire to – and indeed don’t need to because it is the specialist knowledge of my profession, the equivalent of what doctors know about the workings of the human body or civil engineers know about sewers or motorway flyovers.
That is not the expectation I want to be working with, or want anyone else to have; but it is insidious. Rather, my expectation is that my role when I preach is (or should be) to draw out the lived experience of the people of God.
Why? In part because the hope in preaching is not to impart information but to catalyse or to nurture – and perhaps to narrate – transformation. In part because the lived experience of the people of God has been lived longer and experienced deeper or wider by different members of the Body. And in part because some have lived so long and experienced so much that they have forgotten things that need to be drawn out of them once again.
When I read scripture, I listen for what the Spirit of God wants to say to my spirit about who God is, and therefore who we are (for example, the revelation that God is our Provider contains the revelation that we are those provided for: this is covenant relationship); and/or about what God is doing and wants us to join-in with (this is kingdom partnership). But that listening process is best done corporately.
This Sunday, I will be preaching, reflecting on Isaiah55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9.
I will offer my observation that the Isaiah passage reveals God’s playfulness, both in terms of how God wants to relate to us and in terms of how God chooses to teach us.
Then I will ask, does this idea – that God is playful – ring true with what we know about Jesus? Here I will suggest that the Luke passage presents Jesus responding to Big Questions (raised by the abuse of political power and culpable negligence; questions such as Why does a loving and powerful God allow suffering? Do bad people experience judgement, and good people reward?) by playfully telling a humorous story (of a man so diligently focused on what he thought was required of him that he failed to notice something else, until it was indirectly brought to his attention in a way that did not chastise or humiliate him).
I will also ask, does this idea – that God is playful – ring true with personal experience? And here, I will share stories of my own experience.
But that is by way of setting something before everyone, to say, amongst other things, what can you teach me? What have you learned of God’s playfulness that I can learn from you; that we can learn from one another; that we can learn together?
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