To the Measure of Christ
The goal of preaching is to help Christians, individually and in the community, to know God as seen in the life of Israel and made known intimately in Jesus Christ. Scripture provides us with word pictures of the people and events that give witness to the presence of God in the lives of God's people. As preacher of the word of God, my hope is to connect the hearers with the biblical stories in a way that will help them recognize the presence of God in their own lives and share the good news that God is with us in every time and place.
There is good news for all time and for every moment. God's self-giving in Jesus Christ comes to us where we are, and the good news of the sermon is the word that sets the hearer free to live the life God in Christ Jesus intends for them. In every moment of preaching, my intention is to help equip the people of God to confront the life and death issues that we face in our daily encounters. The setting and context in which the sermon is delivered are the key drivers that determine the direction in which the sermon will go. It is important for hearers of the sermon to see themselves in the message in the same way that they are led to see the people in the biblical stories that are the foundation of the sermon.
In order to bring this to pass, I put a lot of energy into understanding the context of the sermon at many levels, from the macro to the micro. The situations of the culture and of society—both nationally and worldwide—are important to the development of the message. Even when I am not actively preparing a sermon, I am constantly thinking about preaching and sermons because I am listening always for a message that God would like me to bring to the people of God. The process is ongoing for me; however, for a particular sermon I try to let myself marinate in the text through reading it and literally hearing it. I then proceed to try to articulate in my words a key message conveyed by the text. I do not assume there is only one key message that can be conveyed. But I try to focus on one.
The challenge of selecting a text is also a process of discernment. In the main, I prefer working with the lectionary text because I believe its use lends itself to developing the whole body of Christ, and it stretches my task as preacher and keeps me from preaching in my comfort zone only. However, I am often led to one particular scripture passage among the four texts provided that seems to offer the message God wants me to deliver; or I may be inspired to preach a message that seems to arise from one or more of the texts. The style and structure of the sermon arises from the content of the message and, since I am comfortable in both genres, may be topical or expository. The message is what is important; it is the mission of every preacher.
Our mission is nothing less than "New Creation." We are called to help the people of God see the new thing that God is doing in our midst. God calls us to offer a message of life, of hope, of peace and justice. There will be no world made new without peace and justice and, I would add, love—the love of God for all people. My hope is that through my preaching the hearers will experience God's presence in a way that says to each person: "You are a beloved child of God, and you can live like it." Working to get this message across energizes my preaching, stimulates my delivery, and guides the message whether it is delivered from the pulpit or in the midst of the congregation. As I develop the material that I take into the pulpit, I am guided by what I believe God would have me say.
My development as a preacher has been influenced deeply by my father, the Reverend Herbert E. Palmer, a preacher of the gospel whose years of preaching taught me the importance of delivering God's message faithfully to the people of God. The soul-stirring preaching of the Reverend Frank L. Williams also helped me understand the importance of reaching the people at their point of need. I understood from the responses of the people to these pulpit giants and even from my own preaching that people do indeed give an ear to the message. The people are listening to the voice of the preacher, but they are really listening for a word from God.
The challenge for me as a preacher, and in fact for each and every preacher, as a messenger of God's love, is to know how best in our frantic age to invite the full engagement of the hearer. The word of God is received first in the ear, but the hearer must allow that word to touch the mind and penetrate the heart in order for the message of God's love to give light to their life. As Christians individually and in the gathered community as the church, the body of Christ, our hope is to know God and see God's presence as revealed in scripture and in the world. Christians, the evidence of God's love is made known fully and intimately in Jesus Christ. It is Christ revealed in us, revealed in the words of the sermon, revealed in the moment of preaching that offers a message of hope to the hearers of the sermon. In the moment of preaching, the preacher becomes the voice of God to the hearers, calling them to accept the fullness of Christ for the living of their lives. My ultimate aim in preaching is to assist the hearers, individuals and their communities, to grow to the full measure of the stature of Jesus Christ.
excerpt from: Black United Methodists Preach! edited by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks ©Abingdon Press 2012.