Preaching an Old West Theology
William Willimon in The Intrusive Word writes that “We ought to preach as if we were opening a package that could be packed with dynamite.” By that he means that we should expect dislocation, surprises, and jolts. Too often we package our sermons in a neatly finished package where we know all the answers and God always acts the way we expect. We create a world in the sermon that is much unlike our own world.
Good Always Wins?
Over my life I have seen many old Westerns. These were shows that dramatized our mythology of the conquest of the Western United States in the mid to late 19th century. These stories were interesting in that the Good guy always won. Right always came out on top. In short, the bad guy didn’t always get away with the money. That was comfortable for us to see, we want to believe that down here good will always win. We want to believe that I will not lose my job and if I do a better one is around the corner. We want to believe that we will qualify for that house. We want to believe that if we pay our tithe or plant our seed there we will live a life of luxury.
What Kind of World is in Your Sermon?
What kind of world do your people see in your sermons? Is it the imaginary world where money is no problem, or is it the real world that your people live in, where layoffs are coming even though the church record books show the financial giving was not at issue? Will we preach the imaginary world where you will always get a better job when you lose the one you have now, or will we preach in the real world where our people actually have to take job that are beneath their training? Will we preach the imaginary world where a cure for our ailments is guaranteed by God, or will we preach in the real world where faithful people die of ailments while some unfaithful people live on?
Too many of us are preaching that “old West” theology. Good always wins, Bad always loses. The people may shout about it, the people may sleep on it, but in either case, the people will not be equipped to live in the real world. I encourage you as preachers to struggle with the reality of real suffering before constructing this mythological world that belongs on late night television.