Sermons Like a Chicken with Galoshes On

While reading brief essays on Biblical hermeneutics, I found these comments to be helpful points of reflection for those tasked with preaching. We need not commend the whole of the author’s hermeneutical approach in order to appreciate these contributions.

Merold Westphal:

Too often sermons remind one of the diner who complained to the cook that there wasn’t much in the chicken soup to justify its name. The cook was surprised, since, as he said, “The chicken walked through the soup twice–with galoshes on.” Too many sermons have walked through the text twice–with galoshes on. The results are likely to be (1) a report of the interesting events in the life of the pastor during the previous week, (2) a motivational speech with occasional biblical allusions, (3) a rant on some pet peeve or pet project of the pastor’s with little or no relations to the text  dishonestly announced as the basis for the sermon, or (4) a repetition of some very general Christian truths which , in the absence of any detectable relation to the text, tend to become platitudes, providing neither comfort nor challenge.

God is alive and speaking to us today. Given who this author is, listening for that word is of utmost existential importance. To take this double task seriously in sermon preparation is not easy. IT calls for thorough preparation in terms of theological education and ongoing reading and for the hard work of struggling with each text as Jacob struggled at Peniel with the man of whom he later said, “I have seen God face to face” (Gen 32:30 NRSV). Good preaching requires serious and sustained wrestling.

Some preachers are embarrassed to preach from an elevated pulpit. Their motives are better than their understanding. The elevation of the pulpit signifies not the elevation of the clergy over the laity but the supremacy of Scripture over the whole congregation, clergy and lay. Preachers should explain this clearly to their congregation. (86-87)

And F. Scott Spencer has this comment to add to the mix:

Especially in the Protestant tradition, nothing is more basic than an open Bible open for everyone’s engagement. Any evangelical sermon worth its salt begins with exhorting the congregation, ‘Open your Bibles to [such and such chapter and verse],’ which introduces the focal text for explication and application. While the preacher then does all the talking from an elevated pulpit, the communication event is well out of his or her hands, because all those open Bibles in the pew are concurrently read and interpreted  by independent thinkers.” (54)

From Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, eds. (IVP Academic, 2012).

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