What is Exodus preaching?

August 20th, 2018

Times are dark. But hope remains in reach. Among the many things that leave the preacher’s lips, no Christian preacher escapes the obligation to set this declaration before the people. Why? Because preaching is what hope looks like in our age of compassion fatigue, conspicuous consumption, and deadly violence. Though not an end in itself, preaching is a means by which God reminds a society of God’s concern for community wellness, life, human dignity, and freedom in a less-than-perfect world. This is why preaching and preachers matter.

African American prophetic preaching (alternatively termed Exodus preaching) is “interpretation” that brings clarity to the sacred (God, revealed truth, highest moral values, and so on) and articulates what should be appropriate human response to the sacred. The preacher who preaches prophetically does not treat social justice (or other sacred values) as something independent from God but as being rooted in and emanating from God. Exodus preaching does not take place in a vacuum, nor is it self-generated discourse; rather, it is daring speech that offers a vision of divine intent. It reveals a picture of what God intends and expects of God’s human creation—a picture that enables persons and faith communities to interpret their situation in light of God’s justice, and to name as sin activities that frustrate God’s life-giving purposes.

African American prophetic preaching is meditational speech. It bears no fundamental distinction from prophetic preaching in general, except to the extent that it is seen as God-summoned speech clothed in cultural particularity.[1] Contextual awareness in preaching helps us to see that we bring ourselves to the scriptural texts we interpret, and our seeing, if we see anything at all, is revealed through the lens of our lived experience. Regarding context and culture, one must keep in mind that Jesus of Nazareth was a poor Palestinian Jew—a revolutionary figure nonetheless—who lived more than two thousand years ago in a living community. In other words, Jesus had a specific ethnic and religious identity, and this is not insignificant given Western culture’s enduring fascination and general depiction of Jesus as a Nordic messianic martyr. A Jesus separated from his Judaic heritage and social location renders Jesus ahistorical, mythical, and incapable of saving.

Because human beings are literally thrown into traditions and communities from which they take their personhood and socializations, racially and ethnically blind preaching can only exist in the colonized mind. This is fact, not fiction. As God-summoned proclamation that lifts and values the reality that sociocultural context shapes preachers and their sermons, Exodus preaching sees the homiletical life through the religious practices and lived experiences of Gentile Christians of African descent in North America and is written from this perspective...

"Exodus Preaching: Crafting Sermons about Justice and Hope" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here: http://bit.ly/ExodusPreaching

Exodus preaching is concrete and daring discourse that names God and offers a vision of divine purpose. Preaching of this kind serves an emancipatory agenda. Through criticism and symbols of hope about what God intends and expects of God’s human creation, Exodus preaching lands on the ear of the despairing and is dedicated to help them interpret their situation in light of God’s justice and the quest for human freedom. As long as people desire to be free, Martin King's insightful query will never ring hollow.

King once asked, “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings of people more than the preacher?” Such a question hoists a burden upon every minister who hopes to do something of consequence in partnership with God. To shun the beckoning task of preparing listeners to stand and be counted as co-participants with a promise-bearing God at work in the world is to tighten Egypt’s grip and undermine a several-centuries-old quest for freedom. The Exodus saga’s correspondence with today’s victims of history has added legitimacy to the preacher’s speech about God’s will toward justice. Likewise, the Hebrew prophet’s evocative cries for moral accountability to God and community beckons preachers toward high standards of moral and ethical responsibility, just as the salvific agenda and incarnational witness of Jesus remind preachers that the vocation of prophetic truth-telling often co-occurs with personal suffering. Such orienting biblical touchstones invite today’s preacher-prophets to stand against the forces of death and evil in both the public square and the church. This is why the enduring pursuit for human dignity and overcoming spiritual and social forces that work against the collective good and welfare of all persons remain so important. In today’s culture of trauma and numbness, if the preacher is silent potential pathways to human flourishing will be blocked.

But what might these pathways resemble? I have argued elsewhere that prophetic proclamation is not self-generated discourse but summoned word taking its beginning and ending in God[2]. Yet because preaching is both a divine and human activity, which calls upon a preacher’s gifts and faculties, I believe hints to push a preacher to stretch her theological imagination can aid the preacher’s growth, especially as it relates to developing a prophetic consciousness given the current state of the world.

[1] Kenyatta R. Gilbert, A Pursued Justice: Black Preaching from the Great Migration to Civil Rights (Waco, TX: Baylor Press, 2016), 6.

[2] Ibid.

Excerpted from Exodus Preaching by Kenyatta R. Gilbert. Copyright © 2018 Kenyatta R. Gilbert. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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