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Is Your Sermon A Manger?

26October2011

Luther once said, “The bible is the manger in which Christ is laid.”  It is a powerful witness to the Lutheran understanding of scripture.  The Word of God is Jesus and we lean fully on Scripture to point us towards Jesus.  At the same time, the bible is not our God and we do not worship it.

I just finished a challenging book by Daniel Chandler.  Semiotics: the basics.  It was far from a basic understanding—it was a full-scale onslaught of semiotic thought and history.  But it was helpful.   I was most intrigued by Chandler’s quote on page 124.  “Once we employ a trope, our utterances becomes part of a much larger system of associations which is beyond our control.  For instance when we refer metaphorically to ‘putting things into words’ this involves a further implicit metaphor of language as a ‘container’ – a particular view of language which has specific implications (Reddy 1979)

There seems to be a connection between the Word becoming flesh, the “container” or manger of the Bible, and the challenge of putting the Gospel into words.  Truth be told, I’ve never been fully comfortable with Luther’s understanding that the words that I preach on Sunday morning are the “Word of God.”  That said, my prayer is often that the hearers would forget all the words that come from my mouth that are mine and cling fast to the words that God speaks through me.  I certainly believe God uses the preacher.  But elevating the sermon to “Word of God” status makes my knees buckle.  It only makes sense in light of the incarnation and the fact that this blessed mystery continues.

Furthermore, one of the many challenges of preaching is that the Word that the preacher preaches is not the Word that the hearer hears.  We all hear things differently—no matter how articulate or clear the speaker happens to be.  Preaching is certainly not a static event.  It is active and alive.  It takes the proclaimer and the hearers for the preaching event to take place.  It isn’t all about what I have written in my manuscript.

So, with all that said, how can we not tremble with fright to know that the words that we speak are the container in which Christ resides?  It’s easy to speak about Jesus.  It is something entirely different to know that the words that I speak carry within them the savior of the world.  And, therefore, how do we not allow this fact to debilitate us into bumbling idiots?  (And, please, no Sunday School answers that it is the Holy Spirit–we all know that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we are able to cry out to Jesus and for Jesus)

Is your sermon a manger?

SMN @CCD

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 26October2011 08:30

    “Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.” – A Sacristy Prayer, Martin Luther

  2. 26October2011 08:30

    One word, Scott. . . “Faith.” It’s simple and yet mysteriously profound!
    Amy Little

  3. 26October2011 11:12

    Well, I wouldn’t consider it a Sunday School answer to say “It is the Holy Spirit.” In fact, sometimes I think the more sophisticated, educated and “experienced” we become, the less likely we are to lean upon the Holy Spirit to amplify what is most true and most necessary about anything we offer in our words. It is tempting to think that our minds or our own efforts come up with something that the folks “out there” need to hear. As Amy says, the simplicity of “faith”-filled service is often complicated by our own need to perform or impress (our selves as well as others). But then again, perhaps I don’t know what I am talking about and none of what I just said has been prompted by the Holy Spirit at all. If so, just ignore my rambling!

    • 26October2011 16:27

      I agree Pamela. It is absolutely by the Holy Spirit and only because of the Holy Spirit. I guess what I was trying to get towards was how does the Holy Spirit work in the way that you preach–or hear–a sermon? My hunch is that the Holy Spirit works in specific ways for you and specific ways for me–just curious as to what those ways are. It is always, fully, and completely a work of the HS that works to make my screwed up, slanted, egotistical, self-serving words somehow point to Jesus. Only the Triune God can redeem my words!

      Thanks for reading!
      SMN

    • 26October2011 16:35

      Absolutely, Pamela. The comment wasn’t to dismiss the Holy Spirit’s involvement within the preaching event. If the Holy Spirit isn’t involved, I am screwed! And, more to the point, the people that listen are screwed! Please know that I wasn’t dismissing the Holy Spirit–the question was meant to dive deeper into

        how

      the Holy Spirit works in the preaching and hearing of sermons.
      I heard a great comment recently. My theology is continuously getting more and more complex. My faith is getting simpler and simpler–faith like a child. I have the faith of a child that the Holy Spirit is present in, with, and under the preached word. But, our theology of preaching needs to be more complex.
      Does that make sense? that is what I was trying to get towards with the last limiter on the question.
      And, for the record, I don’t think you were rambling.

      Thanks for reading!
      SMN

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