Proclaiming the Word

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Let the Word Be Heard!

9/24/2013

Let the Word be Heard!

Remember it is your job to give people their Bibles.”  That was the best advice Fred Craddock had to offer a room full of preachers eager to learn from his well-known communication skills.  They may own many Bibles, he said, but they need to know how to read it, understand it, hold it dear, and live it.  When you preach each Sunday, he told us, don’t forget to give people their Bibles. 

By this he meant that when we preach we ought to help people understand this peculiar book that proclaims to us the love of the Saving God at work among his people.  Those listening ought to be inspired to read, study, and ponder it for themselves.  In our preaching we should take the opportunity to equip our hearers with the tools needed for understanding Scripture’s uniqueness, it’s message, it’s meaning.

One of the ways I have tried to take Craddock’s wisdom to heart is by trying to let the Scripture itself shine bright in every sermon.  Not only should the Word be read well publicly (with appropriate pauses and thoughtful inflection), but it ought to occupy the best place we can give it in the sermon, we ought to hold it out and offer it at the most opportune moment, when it can make the biggest impact.  For our hope is that in the reading and proclamation of the written Word, we will encounter the voice of the Living Word speaking to us all.

Not every preacher gives consideration to where the Scripture should be placed in the sermon itself.  By default it usually comes first, with every sentence of the sermon trying to explain what it means.

And there are reasons to put the Scripture first in a sermon.  Sometimes a passage is so complex that the starting point must be the Word itself.  Speak the Word first and the entire sermon can illuminate it afterward.

There are also many occasions when the Scripture needs some kind of introduction.  A word or two to introduce it to the congregation.  Sometimes this introduction is informative, perhaps telling us about the writer of the letter and those who received it or maybe filling us in on what events just transpired so we know how to hear it in its context.  Other times the best introduction to a passage requires a warning.  When faced with a difficult or complex passage, I find it is best to simply tell the congregation that we have a lot of work ahead of us today, for our Scripture isn’t easy and will demand our full attention.  Of course a warning like this is also helped by a promise that if we persevere, we will hear the words of Jesus speaking to us.  Sometimes giving people their Bibles is simply the task of preparing their ears to hear the challenging or difficult or encouraging word that is to come.

The Scripture can also beg us to be heard in the middle of a sermon, as the turning point.  Perhaps we first need to consider similar issues in our world before we can rightfully hear what wisdom it offers.   The Scripture can arrive in the sermon in a way that takes us from problems in human life today to the place where God’s deliverance usually arrives, causing us to wrestle with what that means in our own world or to begin celebrate God’s goodness to us.

It may seem impossible to think of a reason to put the Scripture at the end of the sermon, but sometimes it works best as the sermon’s crescendo, speaking the words that cap off all that was said before into a concise message.  Maybe the Scripture is a word of wisdom and the sermon leading up to that point can be all illustration or story which is summed up nicely by the Word itself.  Or maybe after a long list of alternative options or thinking that do not work, the Scripture can come in at the end of the sermon and be heard as the good news we have been waiting for.

Plenty of reasons can be given for splitting the passage into chunks and sprinkling it throughout a message.  Whether it is a passage that should be read verse by verse or a story that needs to be stopped and explained along the way so the story’s climax can be fully understood, journeying slowly through a passage can aid the hearing of your listeners.

 There are lots of ways to include the Scripture in a sermon.  Let the passage tell you where it belongs and where it can best be heard in your sermon.  As with all sermons, there are plenty of right ways to do it.  Trying a new location for the Scripture when it is appropriate will give you some variety, creativity, and even help the congregation become more familiar and interested in the Word itself.  Those who listen will learn something by where you place the sermon and what you deem as important in order to hear it.  Variety over time can also build interest and anticipation.  Simply asking the question “where’s the best place for the Scripture in my sermon?” and considering the options can help you “give them their Bibles.”  The additional thoughtfulness can inspire the thirst for God’s voice among your hearers and cause them to leave with a better understanding of the Holy Scriptures and its connection to life.  Give your people their Bibles and you make the Living Word all the more accessible to their ears, even beyond the sermon itself.

- Rev. Christa Klosterman

Christa serves a two point charge in the United Methodist Church at Ontario First United Methodist Church and Fruitland United Methodist Church.