This is what (I) do…

Went for a pub lunch in the end yesterday and let someone else do the cooking. However, when it comes to preaching these are my basic recipe steps:

  • Read without.  Read the biblical text with no commentaries, books or other aids. This ‘virgin’ reading of the text is vital, and the insights you gain from it  are precious. You may not use them all in this sermon, but they should not be discarded.
  • Read with. Next move on to reading the text with the help of commentaries and background material. Remember that things like maps and timelines can be really helpful for allowing you to ‘feel your way’ into what was going on in the bible passage. When it comes to commentaries – try to ensure that you don’t read them all from the same theological stable. Remember, too, that you are not obliged to agree with them, especially when they do not agree with each other!
  • Write for As you begin to write your sermon, remember that you are writing it for this group of people at this time in this place. Whilst I hesitate to disagree with the great Spurgeon, especially after quoting him with such respect in the previous post, I feel I must. He said that “if you can’t preach a sermon ten times you shouldn’t preach it once”. In my view, if a sermon is so ‘elastic’ that it could apply generally to ten congregations in ten situations, it maybe doesn’t apply much in any of them. In her fascinating book Preaching as local theology and folk art, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale argues precisely this – urging every preacher to understand their congregation like a social anthropologist understanding another culture.
  • Percolate Here we return to catering imagery for a moment. The earlier in the week that the preparation can be done, the more time there is for the sermon to percolate in the preacher’s heart. As it does so, the flavour grows stronger and stronger and the aroma fills his or her soul.
  • Read for Having written the sermon for a particular group of people, try to read it now as if you were those people. How will John read this after losing his job last week? How will it sound to Mary with her mother ill in hospital? You may not change anything, and you certainly shouldn’t write the sermon around John or Mary, but you need to try and hear it from their point of view. Eugene Peterson once wrote to me that every sermon incorporates the translation principles of The Message – putting  hard thoughts into accessible language.
  • Preach it The obvious part of the process – delivering God’s word with passion, clarity and hope. All sorts of things to consider here about gesture, tone of voice, stance, and even dress – but more to come of that in another post.
  • Leave it Once preached, it is God’s business, not yours. There is no doubt that you could have done it better or might do it differently – but God in his grace has chosen to make use of it. This is a miracle…every single time.

Whenever I am reading a recipe or a set of instructions there is one word I loathe above all others – “just”. “Just combine these ingredients”, the recipe says, or “just insert screw A into hole C”, as if this were a guarantee of success!  The sermon recipes posted yesterday and today are not intended to be read in that way. They are descriptions of distilled experience, and will doubtless change as I do.

Back in the days of student cooking I used to have a friend who would always say that her cooking tasted awful if it was not “cooked with love”. Perhaps it is the same with preaching…