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Preaching with Humanity: A practical guide for today’s church – Geoffrey Stevenson and Stephen Wright

October 8, 2016

pwhIt covers topics like how best to use digital projection equipment to enhance the preacher’s message, to breathing and voice warm-up exercises, and reflections on preaching in various denominational settings. It also contains a wealth of practical tips on selecting and structuring material when preparing a sermon.

The title points to the types of preaching that the authors wish to “describe, advocate, aspire to and facilitate”: Preaching with Humanity aims to help ministers relate to people’s everyday lives while reflecting something of what it means for humankind to be made in the image of God. It is, write the authors, “a book of theory that expects to be put into practice, and of practice that needs to be reflected upon afterwards.”

The authors admit that the word ‘preaching’ is often used in a negative sense – “Will you stop preaching at me?!”. They also recognise that the ancient practice of one person standing before a congregation of people and speaking without interruption or contradiction for anything between 12 and 40 minutes can seem very outdated, even pointless, to most 21st century people. But the book goes on to argue that preaching – nourishing, thoughtful, imaginative, well-prepared preaching – remains at the core of the church’s life.

There are some useful links, e.g. Network of Biblical Storytellers International’ But avoid because it has an insecure connection.

Why is the print font so small?


If you ask preachers about what they think they are doing, and then ask listeners about their experience, you sometimes get the impression that they have not been part of the same event. It seems there was not one sermon, but many – at least as many sermons as there were listeners, plus the one the preacher preached, plus the one the preacher was hoping to preach, not to mention the one that should have been preached if the preacher had listened more closely to the text and to the congregation and to the Holy Spirit!

Use an old sermon if you have to; even use someone else’s from the Internet or elsewhere, if you’re really stuck; your own  reativity is a wonderful gift, but don’t get hung up if the  spark seems to depart from time to time. It’s a fallacy of modern  individualism to think that preaching is all “down to you”; a fallacy of .1 the “now” culture to think that preaching has to be super-fresh all the time.

Over the years I have come to value the pattern of “signing off” a Sunday sermon by Friday teatime at the latest. I then look over it quietly for half an hour or so on Saturday evening. Frankly, I have . never stayed up all night to prepare and barring extraordinary circumstances, never intend to! Believing that God “gives sleep to his beloved”, I find that it is far preferable to come to church in a relaxed frame of mind than with brow furrowed from creative or quasi-spiritual angst. Of course, I will always be dissatisfied with where I left my sermon on Friday night, even on Saturday night. Conscientious preachers will always feel that every sermon needs weeks or months rather than days to prepare properly!

Until the sixteenth century, at least, this order of priority in Christian interpretation was maintained. Scripture was a key to understanding what God had done and was doing in his world; it was not an object of ultimate significance in itself. Martin Luther expressed it like this: the Bible exists for preaching, not preaching for the Bible.’

In my sermon an important corrective to my thinking occurred when I consulted Joel Green’s commentary on Luke.’ I had been focusing on the social subversion of the episode, on Jesus’ affirmation that ‘a woman’s place’ is being a ‘learner’ with the men, not just serving in the kitchen. Green does affirm this, and it played a part in my sermon; but Green points out that the deeper lesson Luke seems to be teaching is not gender-related, but about hospitality itself. Mary exemplifies the truth that extending ‘hospitality’ to Jesus is more deeply about responding to his ‘word’ than it is about laying on a fine spread for him. (The ‘word’ of Jesus — logos, Luke 10.39 — is a prominent notion in Luke.) I tried to highlight this especially in my sermon.

Appendix: Sermon ‑ Luke 10.38-42

Let’s face it, you and I would have been in a flap, wouldn’t we? Just pottering about in the kitchen getting ready for a normal nice quiet dinner for two, a pan on the hob, your favourite cheesy dish rising nicely in the oven, and then there’s a ring on the doorbell. Who is it this time? Another one of those salesmen who always seems to call just at mealtimes when he knows you’ll be in? Well, it’s certainly a man — you can make that out through the glass: there’s his beard. But you open the door and instead it’s … the Master. The teacher! The one you’ve heard so much about. The one who seems to be making waves, and calming them, wherever he goes.

But not just him. Wherever he goes, his band goes too. One, two, three — must be twelve of them — tough, hearty, hairy young men, all lining up outside the door, smiling, expectant, slightly hungry. What do you do? You can’t turn the Master away. But it looks as if you don’t have the Master to lunch without having his followers too. Stuttering, awkward, you beckon them in …

So in they come. They flop themselves down in the tiny front room. And you go into a flat spin. That cheesy dish might stretch to three, but it certainly won’t stretch to fourteen. Where are the other pans? What’s in the cupboard? Should you go round to the neighbour’s to borrow some more dishes, to see if they’ve got any spare spuds? And where are we all going to sit? And what about drink? You’re sure there’s nothing like enough wine to go round.

In that tiny front room, so full of men, a bit sweaty from the journey, it’s remarkably quiet. You suddenly stop tearing round the kitchen and cock an ear to the door. There’s just one voice. The Master. He’s talking. They’re all listening.

But wait a moment — what about your sister, Mary? Where’s she? Why’s she not helping? You open the door, and there she is. In among all the men. Well, Mary … You gasp, not quite knowing what to say. She’s listening, like them, to Jesus.

What you say then bursts out of your deepest instincts as a first-century Jewish woman. That’s not a woman’s place — listening to teaching! Being educated! Being with the men! A woman’s place — particularly a hostess’s place — is with me, in the kitchen, trying to make sure we don’t mortally offend the Master and all his merry men!

‘Master, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?’

And you’re not prepared for his response — so gentle yet so penetrating.

It seems this Jesus is not in the business of sorting out people’s little family quarrels, whether it’s sisters and preparing a meal or brothers and dividing an inheritance.

Instead, this Jesus wants everybody there to see the huge significance of what is taking place in that tiny house in Palestine that dusty first-century day.

‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.’

Don’t you see what Mary, your sister, has realized? By instinct — an instinct as deep as the one that led to your outburst? That really to welcome the Master goes far deeper than just laying on a meal for him and his friends, though that’s important. To welcome him means to listen to his words.

And as you hear Jesus speaking, it dawns on you that Mary has realized something else too. That anybody can listen to the Master and learn from him. That it is as much a woman’s place to do that as it is a man’s. And then you remember hearing about some of the strange stories the Master told, with much the same message: anybody can do it. There was that one about a suspicious foreigner, a Samaritan, who showed he was just as capable of doing God’s will and rescuing a wounded man as one of your own religious leaders — and more so. In fact, this was the kind of behaviour the Master seemed actually to draw out of people. People were talking about tax collectors giving their money away. Whatever next!

‘Anybody can listen to me and do what I teach!’

And then it started to make sense. Your sister, squashed in among all the men. Quite naturally. A disciple along with the rest.

And you realize, as you stop there still in the doorway, transfixed by Jesus’ words, just what he’s saying to you. He’s not saying he doesn’t want your practical preparations, your diligent service, your careful cooking. He’s saying he doesn’t want you to be anxious, distracted by a multiplicity of tasks. He’s saying that there is one thing, one thing above all, that will keep you on track, that will be truly good for you. Everything else comes from that one thing. And that one thing is listening to him. Going on listening, as Mary did. Going on, because there is always more to hear, more to learn, more to take in, more to obey. Out of that listening will come true service.

And you return to the kitchen, strangely quietened. Somehow that cheesy dish doesn’t quite look so small any more.

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