In the book Sacred Art: Preaching and Theology in the African American Tradition Olin Moyd quotes Peter T. Forsyth who said: “The Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet. The orator comes with inspiration the prophet comes with a revelation.”
H. Beecher Hicks in the second chapter of his book Preaching Through a Storm has a sermon entitled How to Silence a Preacher; or, Shut Your Mouth!. Rev. Hicks preached this sermon at the ordination of a new ministry. The sermon gives a few ways that a preacher’s mouth can be closed.
It is certainly a terrible thing for a preacher’s mouth to be shut. We are called to speak. If the preacher does not speak, who will? In the history of African Americans it has been the preacher who has often been the voice of liberation and salvation. It has been the preacher who has given us a word of hope to make it through the dark days. It has been a preacher who has been the catalyst for movements for change. Certainly, if it had not been for the preacher, we may not have heard the word of our salvation, neither would we have heard the word for our survival or liberation. The preacher must speak, but Hicks provides a few ways that that great voice can be silenced.
The first way that the preacher’s voice can be silenced, according to Hicks, is to allow the socio-political economic climate to blunt the preacher’s voice. Certainly today, if one stands up for righteousness one can be seen as attacking the prevailing order. Dr. King was condemned for standing up against the Vietnam war when many questioned why do it? Those few prophetic voices that stood up against the Iraq war when everyone was waving their flags testify that today you will be condemned. Today, if you question America on its racism or even state that it exists presently you can be condemned. Today, if you see structural systems of oppression against the poor and seek to remedy them, you will be condemned. It is easy for a preacher to just shut up and preach smooth things. It is easy to simply say as the old saying goes, “God Bless America…and pass the ammunition” but if the preacher doesn’t stand up, who will?
The second way that the preacher’s voice can be muted is a what we all a moral fall in the life of the preacher. When the preacher is stealing money or running women it can have the affect of muting the prophetic voice. Certainly there are some who still give the call even though their life betrays the message, but often times the voice of the preacher whose life is filled with immorality will be muted. People sometimes expect too much of the preacher, but it is right that they expect something from the preacher. We cannnot simply apply our messages to someone else and not to ourselves. If the message is to transform systems why can’t it transform us? If the message is to transform other folks out of their vices and problems, then why not us? If I might misquote the song made famous by Mahalia Jackson…It’s time for preachers to live the life they preach about in their sermons.
Another way that the voice of the preacher is muted, according to Hicks, is on the issue of women in ministry. Preacher’s who preach liberation often forget to include women in that preaching. Preachers cannot simply preach the message of equality and justice at America while we allow it ourselves. Some women have to leave Black churches to find someone to acknowledge their ministerial gifts. Certainly it is changing and there are many Black churches that celebrate the gifts of women in ministry, but too many still hold America to a higher standard than they hold themselves. The preacher can’t be silent on allowing women to minister if the preacher is to sound the clarion call of justice.
Hicks also reminds us of the congregation using money to shut their preacher;s mouth. Too many churches want a preacher who is just gonna preach sermons about the money that they are going to get or the job that they will obtain becuase of God’s goodness. Too often the preacher who preaches against individual and corporate sin will be taking their job in their hands. Some congregations will be ready and willing to vote a preacher out if she or he “steps on toes.” But a preacher can’t allow the desires of the congregation to mute the gospel message. When we all get to heaven, the sinner will be happy that you reminded the sinner of sin. That may mean that some preachers will get fired, but the preacher has gotta preach. My homiletics professor said that the preacher should always have a “just in case” fund. Just in case you get fired, you have something to fall back on. The reason is becuase preaching the message of God will sometimes get the preacher into trouble. We cannot simply be quiet to keep our jobs.
Often the people try to shut us up. But we preachers must preach the message that God has called us to preach. In the last days, this message will go forth, and will transform those who are true of heart. Praise God that there are some preachers who will not allow the things delineated by Hicks to shut them up. Let us pray that we will be one of those preachers.
Charles Kohler, in his book how to preach without notes, has written on the importance of using the Scripture as an resource for sermon illustrations. On page 45, he he writes, “one authority recommends only one book of illustrations, namely, the Bible.” Using the Bible as a primary source for illustrations is going to be very helpful to both the preacher and the congregation. Today we are living in an era of biblical illiteracy. In the past preachers could assume that the people knew the stories of the Bible, but not today.
Using the stories of the Bible as your sermon illustrations allows your people to understand their circumstances within the context of the biblical record. They learn of an almighty God who is able to allow a disobedient man to be swallowed by a fish. They learn of a powerful God who can open up a Red Sea and allow all people to walk on dry land. They learned of all of the great exploits from the past. They then learn that God can and will use these powers for their ultimate good. However, if your people do not understand or know these great stories then they will not be able to appropriate them at the proper time.
Therefore, using sermon illustrations has a double focus. First, it teaches the grand stories of the Bible. Second, it places the Bible on a higher level in the minds of the people and the preacher. Third, as noted above, the preacher is now learning more of the Bible and that opens up avenues for preaching it in the future.
Certainly we should go to history, both modern and ancient for illustrations. In addition, we can go to nature, our own experiences, and even parts of the mundane experiences of our lives to find rich illustration material. But the preachers should never lose track of the importance of using the Bible as well.
I was studying the sermon “The Eagles Stirreth Her Nest.” by C.L. Franklin, in this particular sermon, Franklin illustrates a couple of his points solely by using the Bible. A perfect example of this is when C.L. Franklin illustrates the idea that God is swift like an eagle. He illustrates this idea by referring to Daniel who was thrown in a lions den and God swiftly intervened to save Daniel. Franklin further illustrates the idea of God’s swiftness by referring to another Biblical story which was when the time that Peter was thrown in jail and the church prayed for him. God swiftly answered that prayer.
There are a few things that one should keep in mind when illustrating our sermons with Bible stories. The first thing you should do is recognize that because of the Biblical illiteracy of our times, we might have to describe the background of the Biblical story before we can use it. Many preachers spend time setting up their stories from contemporary lift, history, or nature, so why not spend a moment or two setting up the Biblical illustration?
Another point, the preacher who would use the Bible as a source for sermon illustrations should remember that the preacher should often go back to some of the common stories. Sometimes preachers feel the need to either preach on our use illustrations from the obscure passages of Scripture. However, as Franklin demonstrates, we can make use of some of the common stories to solidify our points. These stories have been told over and retold. When we make use of these stories, we allow people to experience what they already know on a deeper level.
Many rightly emphasize the need to preach from the Bible and make it primary in their presentations. However, many of these people quickly rush to other resources when searching for illustrations. However, if we would make the Bible primary, let us also make use of it all the way through our sermons. This will help our people to realize that the Book is relevant to their daily lives. It also might encourage them to pick it up and read it. So in your next sermon, instead of pulling out sermon illustration books, and culling other folks sermons fro the perfect illustration, why not open up the Bible itself and seek to find help in not just what you are going to preach, but in your illumination of your chosen sermon.
We don’t get many comments on SoulPreaching.Com. However this post on the prosperity Gospel has elicited a number of interesting ones that I didn’t want the readers to miss. The original article can be found here: http://shermancox.wpengine.com/prosperityfalse.
Dr. Michael Williams wrote:
I totally agree with McMickle. Whereas, I do not think we should preach spiritual masochism, I take the Master as his word when he tells me that â€œin this life you will have some trouble, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. In other words in this world, we will have urban violence, domestic abuse, unfaithfulness at all levels of society, terminal illness, etc. But for us to have a firm confidence that the crucified, buried and resurrected one has over come the power of all of the aforesaid. I remember one of these â€œteachers of the Wordâ€ went through a season of family illness which caused him to cease talking about if you have enough faith you will never get sick. Plus with the economy in the toilet, though we would never know, one can surmise that their â€œseed giftsâ€ are few! So much for what I call the â€œprofit/prophets.â€
Here Williams points to a “joy” that is deeper than simply money in the pocket or a new house or car. This joy, in the words of the tradition, “The world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.” I say amen to Dr. Williams who reminds us that we will have issues in this world, but these issues need not overcome or break us for Jesus has taken all the world can throw at humanity and overcome it.
Dr. Williams then notes in another comment
I think that with the economy in shambles, amongst themselves the the so-called “Word teachers” are asking themselves, “Where have all the PROFITS gone?”
Yes too many of us have been preaching about “PROFITS” rather than being the PROPHETS God called us to be. I am sure in this climate, people want to hear a word from a PROPHET and not a pseudo-word from purveyors of the false American materialistic gospel of “PROFITS.”
The next perceptive comment comes from D. Green who wrote:
The prosperity gospel is anything but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We who have been summonsized to the side of Jesus are called to be a part of a counter-cultural community; a community of faith. This inauthentic gospel that masks itself as the Gospel of the Lord’s Christ is heretical and dangerous. There is in it no preaching about the cross, suffering and sacrifice. It’s a ‘me’ emphasis gospel and definitely does not call for sacrifice and service to others. This so-called gospel in the words of Dallas Willard is guilty of the ‘Great Omission’. It’s emphasis makes Jesus a cosmic bellhop or talisman. Woe be unto us to fall for this that has its origin in the domicile of the devil.
Pastor Green you hit in on a point that deserves emphasis. This perverse Gospel is a “me-centered” one. What am I gonna get? And then to turn Jesus into our “cosmic bellhop.” Certainly the true God is the one who is sovereign, not our desires to keep up with the Joneses. Thanks for your comment.