A while ago, Peter Mead ran a series on his helpful website on the subject of “Preaching Epistles.” People ask me to bring different perspectives, so here is one that I read from time to time.
At any rate, one of his points for preaching epistles effectively is:
11. Preach, don’t commentate – Don’t offer your listeners either a running commentary or a labelled outline of the text. Make your points relevant to today, put them in today language, then show that from the “back then” as you explain the text. Don’t preach “back then” and then offer token relevance once people are disconnected and distracted.
I wanted to “riff” on that quote for a moment. If I understand the quote, I agree completely. To avoid confusion, I must first say that I do believe that one can attach ones points effectively in something that looks like a “running commentary” as you read the text. But this, I believe, is not what Mead is talking about.
Preach A Sermon Not A Commentary
What I believe Mead is getting at is the tendency to talk about all kinds of things that are not relevant to the point of the message (if you even have one). When we preach effectively, we have constructed a sermon around some tightly connected points. Don’t dilute the point by talking about “interesting facts” that have nothing to do with the message or the people. Just because it is true and in the text does not mean that you are to preach it in this message.
Another important point that Mead is bringing out is the necessity of leaving the past. We must go to the past in the text to understand it, but we also must step into the here and now to present the truths to our members who live in the 21st century at this place. Mead succinctly gave a call to simply Don’t stay “back then.” Now this is not a call to ignore the past. That is important.
Preach in the Language of the People
Some preachers like to demonstrate their knowledge of the Bible period of original languages by adding a lot of stuff to the sermon that is not really all that helpful.
I think knowing the languages are helpful, but does quoting a Greek word really help your people understand the point? In most cases no. Does referring to a technical theological term really help your people understand the point? Sometimes yes, the vast majority of time, no.
Preach to the people in front of you, they are not Bible scholars who have spent 8 years of schooling to get advanced theological training. They are people of today. They have lost their job this week. They have a spouse who has declared that divorce is imminent. They have children in jail. They have lost grandma. They have experienced real joy and real hurt this past week. PREACH TO THEM!
We must understand the past if we are going to make it relevant to today, but we also must recognize that we have some work to do before we can talk about the Biblical past in an understandable manner.
I am not totally sure if my riff on Mead’s thought is totally in agreement with his thoughts on homiletics. But I do believe that we agree that preaching is not just providing a commentary on the text. The preacher must form and fashion the insights of exegesis into a sermon that is designed to address the contemporary audience with the ancient text that God has given to us.