The Liberating Word of God

April 13th, 2013

I view the power of preaching as the divine and contemporary word of God, releasing humans from any imprisoning or enslaving element. This view reflects a theology of preaching as liberating and is built primarily from Isaac Rufus Clark's definition of preach­ing. Clark defines preaching as "substantially divine activity, wherein the Word of God is proclaimed or announced on contem­porary issues, with a view towards ultimate response to our God." Preaching is God-breathed declaration, confronting issues of the day with the expectation that hearers must respond. That response is related directly to the transformation that the hearers experience, which results from the liberating word of God offered by the preacher.

That word comes to the hearers in different ways but finds rele­vance in its appropriateness to their lives for the particular time and place. To say that sermonic discourse is timeless means that it was good for its time and has been found relevant in eras since it was first preached. Preaching that fails to speak to its era and age is, in my view, not preaching, and the preacher is charged with the responsibility of helping people experience the freeing grace of God for the living of their lives in the present. Sermons must point to victorious perseverance. In the words of a Johnny Ray Youngblood sermon, we are "the overcoming crowd," which means that through the good news of Jesus Christ the hearers can overcome sin and the challenges of life. The assurance of this good news is present in scripture and provides the basis for preaching.

Whether preaching as appointed pastor or as guest preacher, I look consistently to "exegete the people." Context is everything. By context I mean what happens in neighborhood, community, city, county, state, and nation. In order to prepare to preach, I begin by looking at the people. What is happening in this time, in this place, and in this era? Is the ecclesial calendar offering a topic or need that must be addressed? Does the lectionary speak to this moment? The preacher must address, through the biblical text, some or all of these questions in order to be relevant and beneficial to God's peo­ple. For my preaching, this is absolutely essential, and explicitly or implicitly, I hope to assist hearers to see the relevance of the bibli­cal context as I preach. In this way the sermon reflects my under­standing, as preacher, of the context of the hearers' lives.

Contemplating the environment and situation(s) of the hearers fundamentally impacts the choice of scripture texts for preaching. The Revised Common Lectionary assists often as a source for find­ing texts for preaching; however, even with that, choices are deter­mined based on the situation of those who are to hear the sermon. I believe that all preaching needs to be expository; the biblical text must confront topics, "exposing" the issues to divine truth. To offer clarification of scripture without it speaking to a particular situa­tion in life for a particular people is, from my point of view, of lit­tle value. Expository preaching is my preference, but, having said that, I believe topical discourse is vitally important. However, it is best confronted by exposing God's response to the situation through biblical texts. That response is made to a particular people in a particular context. I use other available resources such as Nave's Topical Bible or other internet resources to help find a text for preaching, and with the context in mind, I try diligently to get a sense of how the text feels or speaks to me.

Every sermon requires that the preacher engage a process of study and interpretation, and I use various types of biblical tools in order to develop what Dr. Clark called "the Anatomy of the Idea." The nucleus or foundation of that idea is based on the good news of salvation. The sermon provides the opportunity for sharing God's living Word, Jesus Christ—what he said and did, through God's written Word—so that people can hear and receive themes­ sage of God's saving love. The message that the sermon offers, the message of God's love, invites the hearers into kingdom living that offers peace and justice. It is the message of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we also call the Christ, who was born and lived in a context of political and economic injustice. He taught and demonstrated­ spiritually, politically, and socially—that divinity confronts, protests against, and loves people such that these injustices can change. In this way preaching becomes both pastoral and prophetic. In fact I believe preaching is pastoral because it is prophetic (truth-telling), and therefore issues of justice and peace are essential to the content of my sermons.

Over the many years of preaching, my process of sermon development, my style of sermon, and my delivery of the message have all developed and changed in many ways. I created manuscripts for twenty-three years, and then for the past three and a half years I have been unable to write full manuscripts. I do not understand why; however, I do find that it has me interacting more with the congregation. Over this same time, I find tht I do walk around much more, and I have come to define my delivery style as intelligent enthusiasm. But whatever the style may be, my hope in preaching is that people will hear God's word and that my ser­monic discourse moves people to become better citizens in the Commonwealth of God. I hate "flunking" before the people; even more, I hate flunking before God.


Excerpted from Black United Methodists Preach! edited by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks ©Abingdon Press 2012.

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