October 28, 2012
This fall I'm teaching an Introduction to Preaching class at Perkins School of Theology. I have twelve students, a good biblical number! Some of them have been preaching for years. For others, this is their first experience and they're filled with trepidation. For their first assignment, I have them all do an exegetical study on the same text and then prepare a twelve-minute sermon on it. This year I chose Mark 10:46-52, our gospel lectionary text for October 28. In most Bibles the title says, "The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus."
Every year, no matter what the text, when I give the assignment, there is someone who says, "Dr. McKenzie, aren't you going to be bored hearing the same sermon twelve times?" Well, I would be if that was what was going to happen! But experience has shown that not to be the case. Why not? Well, because what God says to the young King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:12 is true for all of us as well. "No one like you has ever been before, and no one like you will ever arise again."
Because of our uniqueness and varying contexts, twelve sermons on the same text will be twelve different sermons. They will, we hope, be recognizably related to the same text! But the precise angle the preacher takes reflects what is going on in his or her inward life in context of the community as it sparks with some aspect of the text. Both will differ from person to person. Hence, twelve different sermons.
This year, several of my preachers focused on the crowd in the Bartimaeus story. I like to make up catchy titles for sermons when I hear them. One student preached a sermon I'd call "Morphed in a Moment," about how the moment that Jesus called Bartimaeus to him was the moment the crowd morphed from being discouragers to encouragers. Another focused on Jesus' deliberate strategy to involve the crowd in a healing he probably could have accomplished alone. He'd done it before! Having to assist Bartimaeus in getting to Jesus began the crowd's healing. I would call her sermon "Whose Healing?"
Still another pointed out that it was a tough crowd. She imagined their accusing Bartimaeus of sin for being blind, and, when he was moving toward Jesus, lagging behind him to steal his cloak and the coins it held! The title I'd choose for this get-real look at some in the crowd would be "Tough Transformations."
Other preachers focused on Jesus. One preacher pointed out that Jesus, like Aslan in C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, is "good but not safe." We never know how we'll be changed when we move toward his presence, but we know that we will not remain the same. Another imagined Jesus as a holy, awesome presence in close proximity to Bartimaeus. He likened it to his feeling standing next to Niagara Falls and closing his eyes. He heard the thundering falls and felt the spray on his face. He was in awe. I'd call his sermon "Awestruck."
Still others set their sights on Bartimaeus himself. One told of her experience on a recent seminary immersion trip to the Island of Lindisfarne, when Prince Charles happened to be visiting the same day. She stood in a crowd as he walked by and was so star struck and intimidated that she froze and couldn't call out a greeting, wave, or even get her hands moving to take a picture until he had passed by and it was too late. I might call her sermon "Scared Speechless."
Still another preacher told of a time when, as a five-year-old child having supper at Burger King with her family, her mom, to make her feel important, sent her to the counter just a few feet from their table to get some ketchup. She stood at the counter, and said, "Excuse me." They completely ignored her. She tried again. And finally again, but no response. She likened the frustrating experience to Bartimaeus' experience of being ignored and discounted, not heard, contrasting his refusal to be quiet with her own five-year-old timidity. I would call her sermon "The Child at the Counter."
Still another preacher spoke of Linus from the Charlie Brown cartoon series, who famously said, "Happiness is a warm blanket." She pointed out that, for first-century beggars, the blanket was their umbrella, their tent, their shelter, their money collector, and their bank. She challenged us to get rid of our blankets and move toward Jesus unencumbered. A good title for her sermon might be "Bye-Bye Blankie."
A final student asked us if we knew what it was like to sit on the sidelines, being told by others what we could and could not do. She demanded to know what it would take for us to allow the still small voice of God's call on our lives to drown out the loud voices of those who seek to discourage us. I'd call her sermon "What's It Gonna Take?"
Each of the sermons had a clear focus and a pretty sharp hook.
Morphed in a Moment!
Good but Not Safe
Too Scared to Shout
The Child at the Counter
What's It Gonna Take?
Which sermon would you preach? Probably none of the above.Better to own up to your unique voice and message, the application of God's words to Solomon to yourself: "No one like you has ever been before and no one like you will ever be again."
Better to make the passage your own as God through Jesus Christ has made you God's own.