Leaving the Gospel’s Oddity In the Sermon


William Willimon writes in The Intrusive Word:

The gospel is more add than we liberal mainliners care to admit, certainly more odd than the conservative fundamentalists admit. Conflict is inevitable when the gospel challenges the power configurations in which we find ourselves. Sparks fly. There is a struggle that is considerably more disruptive than the mere nod of intellectual assent.

Bible as Merely an Aid to Live In This Society

Often we preach and teach the Bible and as if it is merely an aid to help us live better lives in this society. The Bible, according to those preachers, is simply about helping us become a better success in the ways of this world. Some preachers teach as if the Bible simply helps us become better at work. The Bible and the gospel simply helps us succeed in the workplace. The Bible is a repository, according to that idea, of ideas that if followed will help you get that promotion.

Others will see the Bible and its gospel as a means to help us gain financial blessing. If we would but follow that book, so some seem to preach, then all we have to do is watch our money come to us. Just think better thoughts and monitary blessings must follow.

Still others reduce the Bible and its gospel to a mechanism to help us gain social equality. It is, according to this idea, something that we follow becuase there are great instructions and help from God to overcome the oppressions in this world. And then there are those who see the Bible and its gospel solely in terms of “my personal relationship” with Jesus without any corporate ramifications.

Bible Doesn’t Fit Neatly Into Our Categories

Willimon reminds us that the Bible cannot fit neatly into our categories of liberal and conservative. The Bible and its gospel attack both sides. The Bible and its gospel is not trying to make you a better citizen of this world. That may or may not happen due to the configuration of your particular society, but it is not its point. The Bible and its gospel is not merely meant to be an elixir to aid the pains of living in this world. Neither is the Bible and its gospel meant to solely be a battleplan to overcome injustice. No, the Bible and its gospel is a new narrative. It is a new world. It is a different world. It is higher than our thoughts. It is different. It is odd.

When Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” that was odd. It was different. It was hard to understand. It is still hard to understand. It is the law of a different society. We don’t think that it will work in our own world. Liberals and Conservatives alike explain away that law as best they can attempting to take the “oddity” out of it.

When Jesus said “Leave Mother and Father,” Jesus fools us again. It is odd, and once again we attempt to explain the oddity out of it. However, the Willimon is right, the Gospel is odd, until you take it on and live in it.

Explain the Real Bible

As Preachers, we are to explain the Bible and its gospel, no doubt. But let us remember that the only way that message can transform is if it is allowed to be “odd” to its hearers. Then just trust that message to make the change necessary to those hearers so that the Bible and its gospel might be lived in our own communities and societies.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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