I had the privilege of being part of a seminar on Tuesday, Oct. 12, “participating” (more like “observing”) the proceedings online as the featured speaker, the Rev. Dr. Tom Long, spoke with pastors on the topic of preaching. Dr. Long is the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
But, you say, Karl … you’re retired! You haven’t even guest-preached in almost two years. Why would you want to spend six hours of your life listening to a professor of preaching when you probably won’t have the chance to use what you learned for a long time, if ever again?
Here’s the thing – I still want to know as much as I can about the Bible, and so much of Dr. Long’s presentation was based on the Bible that I came away having gained some new insights. That made the time spent at the seminar very much worthwhile. Regardless of how old we grow, we should learn whatever we can in order to keep on growing.
Taken totally out of context, and with no explanatory comments from me, here are some random selections from Dr. Long’s presentation:
o “The Kingdom of God is not a symbol, it’s an event.”
o “In the New Testament, heaven is not where we go when we die, but the place from which God comes to us.”
o Comparing Jesus’ parables and golf: When Jesus tells a parable, that’s like hitting a golf ball off the tee, sending the ball [the parable] into the air. The ball then forms a trajectory as it passes through the air, which is the same as the parable passing through the minds and pens of the gospel writers. Finally, the ball lands on the green, which is the same as the parable landing in our present day.
o “The Rule of Three” often comes into play in Jesus’ parables. In the parable of the sower, for example, the sower experiences three failures in scattering the seed (namely, the seed that landed on the hard ground, the rocky ground, and in the thorns) before finding success in scattering it on the good soil.
o The story of the disciples traveling on the Emmaus Road is, in reality, Luke’s way of describing the primary elements of a worship service:
1. Jesus meets the disciples on the road and explains the scriptures to them. (This is the scripture lesson and preaching portion of worship.)
2. Once they reach their destination, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples: voila! The Lord’s Supper (take, bless, break, give).
o In the 1950’s seminary students were taught to construct their sermons around “three points and a poem.” Today, it’s “eight bullet points and a video.”
o A congregation is not a unified entity, but a collection of different constituencies, three of the most prominent constituencies being:
1. The Disenchanted
2. The Unformed (those who are still in the process of being shaped)
3. The No Longer Surprised/Astonished
o Suggestion to preachers: take a moment to give some background to the scripture lesson, putting it in context before reading it. “The congregation doesn’t know Jeremiah from a geranium,” according to Long. To read scripture with no setting or context is like ripping a piece of wallpaper off the wall: “The congregation has the swatch, but they can’t see the whole pattern.”
Perhaps from these bits and pieces you can get a sense for the rich insights Dr. Long shared and why it would be so enjoyable to a pastor, even to an interested lay person.
I understand that next year, my friend, the Rev. Susan Sparks, will give a presentation on the value of humor in preaching. Sure hope I’m around for that one!