How does a theologian/biblical scholar preach a Sunday sermon? How does he/she prepare for a sermon? What about sentence diagram? Do we need to quote Greek text, or provide our translation if we disagree with the translation of the pew Bible? These are some of the questions I have been repeatedly asked. In addition, I think it was one of my students who also asked me whether textual criticism should be included in a sermon.
I've decided that perhaps I'd share some of my joy and struggles in preparing for my sermon this coming Sunday, June 10, 2007.
I must confess that for me, preaching does not come easily, and it is something that I struggle with everytime I have to preach, and it is usually accompanied by sleepless nights. Unlike those who have the gift of communication who could preach without notes, this is one area I lack; and to overcome this, I found that the best way for me is to script out my sermon in its entirety - this way I will not be caught in a situation where I could be lost for words. Not to mention, I know for sure how long my sermon is going to take because we could easily get carried away in our sermon and we forget how fast time flies when we speak.
The text that I have chosen is Mark 5:1-20 on the narrative the healing of the demon-possessed man in the region of Gerasenes.
Of course with the help of BibleWorks, it makes the task of reading the Greek text a great joy! Several key elements in this narrative strike me:
- This account signifies a turning point in Mark's gospel. Here, Jesus is now entering into a gentile territory.
- The irony is that Jesus' ministry thus far up to Mark 4 has been met with conflict and rejection, although some welcome him (cf. the five conflict stories in mark 2:1-3:6); and it is in a gentile territory that a gentile is healed of his condition, and becomes the first evangelist to the gentiles.
- In 5:3-5, all the verbs are in imperfect tense in describing the conditions of the demoniac man. This highlights the continuous pathetic circumstances surrounding the man, and the imperfect provides a very vivid picture of the situation the man is in.
- In 5:6, the verbs change to aorist tense, describing the actions of the demoniac man in approaching Jesus
- In 5:7, the verb is in present tense in describing the actions of the demoniac man crying out to Jesus
- From 5:9-20, there is a constant change in the tenses - from imperfect to present and back to imperfect, and then aorist, imperfect, present and aorist. This is interesting. Why does the evangelist continue to switch the tenses? I suspect that this is to provide a very dramatic and vivid narrative of the event, highlighting emphasis, and at the same time contrasting the varied responses to the event of the healing of the demoniac man.
- There are two versions of the eyewitness accounts recorded in this account on how the people reacted to Jesus' acts of healing and exorcism - the account of the pig farmers (5:14-16) and the account of the demoniac man (5:20)
- Each of these eyewitness accounts results in opposing response to Jesus. Based on the account of the pig farmers, the people reject Jesus. However, based on the story of the healed demoniac man, people welcome Jesus (cf. the response of the people in Decapolis in 7:31-37 - could this be due to the testimony of the healed demoniac man as recorded in 5:20 that prepared for the subsequent visit of Jesus to the area?)
The are many other insights that I could list, but I thought for my sermon, I would focus on the BIG IDEA (a concept of preaching learned from my "sifu" - Haddon Robbinson) of the differing eyewitness accounts that result in opposing response to Jesus. To help me make the emphasis of this point, I turn to my good old friends to help me come out with a sketch - Chris, Ruth, and Ewe Jin. Chris will write the script, Ruth will play the role of Mrs Pig Farmer, and Ewe Jin Mr Demoniac. Both Ruth and Ewe Jin will tell stories of their encounter with Jesus - one focuses on her loss, the other his gain; one focuses on the negative and the other positive. But both have one thing in common - something are GONE in their lives - the pigs for Mrs Pig Farmer; and the chains for Mr Demoniac.
We have decided that the sketch will come on in the middle of the sermon - to give the congregation an unexpected "interruption" - after I give the historical background of the narrative. Then after the sketch, I will draw the sermon to a close with practical applications and implications for Christian living and discipleship - what story are we telling in our witness for Christ in a pluralistic context? Do our testimony, demonstrated through both our word and deed, result in people rejecting or accepting Jesus? Are we telling the story of how much the Lord has done for us, and how he has had mercy on us? (5:19)
As a seminary lecturer, my concern is not only faithful exegesis of the text, but also relevant application of the text in our contemporary setting. I am reminded that if I strive to be the best exegete of the text and yet fail to bring out its contemporary significance to the congregation, I fail as a preacher and teacher of the scripture. If I can be a very eloquent and persuasive preacher and yet fail to subject my life to the authority of the Bible, I not only a hypocrite but also one that brings dishonour to the One whom I am proclaiming. As such, every preaching engagement is a humbling process. It is a struggle. It comes with sleepless nights. But yet I can trust that every word of the Lord that is faithfully proclaimed will not return to him void. This is my prayer, hope, and joy.So, now it's time for me to script out my sermon. Pray for me, and also for Chris, Ruth and Ewe Jin for the sketch.