Those of us trained in theology and ministry craft sermons that are often nothing more than information dumps on our people. We love to show our congregations how well we're trained and convince them of our great theological prowess. We quote verses at convenient intervals and cite statistics with impressive precision, accenting each sub-point with an emotional anecdote from a recent bestselling book or blockbuster movie. We lay out our three-point propositional monologues skillfully and concisely.
But the Bible is a book of stories (true stories!) that deserves so much more than a studied apologetic defense, and there’s no better time to remember that than during this holy season. In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus we have the grandest story ever told, yet we continually reduce it either to a mind-numbing distribution of facts on the one hand, or an overly dramatized, if not graphic, presentation bordering on emotional manipulation on the other.
Both approaches—highbrow intellectualization and emotional sensationalism—fall short of the beauty and truth of the real story.
The intellectual sermon that I have prepared for my people tomorrow is not their story
Pastor Wayne Reece recalls a time when he learned about the shortcomings of his own Easter sermon. Soon after being installed as the new pastor of a church in rural Texas, he found himself stranded in a motorcycle bar the night before Easter Sunday. There, while making friends with a group of bikers very unlike himself, he learned to think differently about the Jesus-story.
When Roy, one of the bikers, said that he didn’t really know anything about Easter, the young pastor was faced with a dilemma: “Do I give him the sermon that I had prepared, that was filled with illustrations from Paul Tillich’s The New Being? Or do I try to find new ways to tell the story—the old, old story—to the new ears of Roy?” It was then that Pastor Reece, along with his new friends, discovered both the simplicity and profundity of the Easter narrative.
Hours later, deep in the middle of the night, the pastor finally reached home and was reunited with his worried wife. But he wasn’t ready for bed. He told his wife, “I have got to rewrite my sermon, because the intellectual sermon that I have prepared for my people tomorrow is not their story.”
How will we tell the Easter story this year? Will it be a report of cold and calculated facts? Will we make impassioned pleas for an emotional response? Or, will we tell a story that becomes the story of the people we minister to?
Of course, the only way to really tell a story of Jesus that relates to the stories of those in the pews is to get to know the people in our congregation. And that means living life alongside them, being co-workers and fellow participants on the journey toward Christ and the cross. Without that, we’ll probably be left again with very antiseptic and detached sermons this Easter. This year, let's discover Easter of the beautiful gospel story together.
Click this link to hear Pastor Wayne Reece tell about his wonderful encounter, and how it changed his perspective of Easter. It’s only ten minutes long and you’ll really enjoy the ending!