(Nadia Bolz-Weber, Greenbelt Festival, Monday 29th August 2011)
Preaching in the emergent/emerging context is complicated. I am skeptical about the sermon format and cynical about the role of the monologue preacher, which is difficult given that I am frequently called upon to preach! Today I listened to a postmodern preacher whose sermon was gripping and authenticity undeniable and it helped me to understand something. If you are interested you can actually read the sermon I heard on her blog sarcasticlutheran.
Nadia used this session to walk us through a week of preparation for a sunday sermon and then preached the result, before allowing us time to reflect on her process and ask questions. Her preparation sounded a lot like what I have evolved into, with musing about the bible text travelling with her in and out the demands of the week. What struck me was the amount of communal discernment involved in both the interaction with the text and the application of the meaning of the text to the lives of the community. By travelling consciously with the text through-out the week in pastoral relationships, chatting with friends (Christians and not; Preachers and not), swimming (running for Nadia), washing dishes, and all things beside, the text internalises and integrates deep into our selves. The Spirit prods and pokes us, dismantling the relevant parts of our ego so that we live the meaning of the text not just intellectually understand it.
A great idea which I’d not heard of was the Lutheran practice of gathering together early in the week with a small group of other Lutheran Pastors to read the text for the coming Sunday and share first thoughts. Obviously, you can’t do this if you’re not following the lectionary and I’m going to add this idea to my personal list of reasons for doing so! A text reads differently when read in the company of others out loud: what a great idea to include that same context in the preparation! Nadia also interacted with friends who were preachers, but more importantly, her process included ideas and contributions from others who are not preachers. If she posts a question on facebook she gets ideas and reflections from scores of friends and strangers; if she’s meeting with parishioners she’ll ask them their thoughts; as she’s reading The News she’ll wonder about the connections. Her whole lifestyle as a Preacher is oriented towards listening not just to the text, but to what the world and her community might say about the text and the God who is met there.
When Nadia gets up to monologue for 10 minutes on a Sunday morning it’s not her introverted reflections as the authoritative expert telling the congregation what to believe. It is the wordsmith’s shaping of the community’s discernment about living life with God in the particularity of their shared context. There is nothing authoritarian about it: the characteristic emerging approach of dispersed authority and wholistic knowledge is unmistakable. Which led me to today’s minor epiphany…
It’s not the monologue form that is problematic in the emerging context, it is the life of the inherited church pastor/preacher. Our critique of the inherited church model needs to be much more cutting than simply ‘substitute the sermon for group discussion’. The preacher needs to get out of his study and into the streets. Lose the arrogant assumption that he has the answers because he reads books and has letters after his name and start listening with our hearts, bodies, souls and senses to the Spirit speaking in the everyday. We need to release our pastor/preachers from privileges of their position which might maintain an illusion of superiority and lock us into unrepentant individualism. We need to insist that our preachers listen more and talk less – not on Sunday, but every day of the week.