Poets, Prophets, & Preachers | Notes & Review

Posted on September 17, 2010


As I listen through the presentations, I’ll be taking notes, and inserting my notes within brackets [VIA: …]. Please note that this is not an exact transcript. I take full responsibility for any misrepresentation of content.


1 – The Original Guerilla Theatre

We’re gathered here because it’s time to reclaim the sermon. It’s a brilliant, primal art form. It’s been around for years, and it’s taken a bit of beating recently, but what we need is a whole new generation of people who will embrace it as the beautiful, sacred, compelling art form that it is.

For some, the sermon is to be “endured.” For others it is to be “evaluated.” Can you imagine hearing Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream speech and saying, “I don’t know. He went a little long and I’ve heard some of those stories before.” You don’t think, “Did you like it.”

[VIA: The distinct (and obvious) difference I would suggest, however, with this example is the context under which MLK gave his speech. While this is very early in the talk, and I fully agree with Bell’s point and principles, pulling in MLK as an example, I opine, ought to take the differences into consideration that this may not be of equal comparative value. To be fair, I have “paused” the talk for this reflection, and he may address it further on.]

We’re talking here about the greatest truths humans have ever stumbled upon; resurrection, new creation bursting forth, and some one stands up and talks about it and the only thing a listener can say is, “Yeah, I think s/he did a pretty good job.” Perhaps we need to rescue people from this kind of perspective.

Some perceive the sermon is pure propaganda. Sometimes the sermon is in the service of something else, and you know it.

So, why would anybody give a sermon?

There are those moments when you feel very exposed and vulnerable, and all of a sudden it becomes very, very lonely.

This beautiful sacred art form can also be lethal. It can cut you. It can hurt.

Have any of you had this/these experiences:

Have you heard anything I’ve said?

And this gets worse, the longer you are with any congregation. You pour yourself out, on this journey, engaging with the scriptures, and you bump up against the limitations of what you’re trying to do.

Crickets vs. “That was the most powerful thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

You were so convinced it was powerful, but everyone else wasn’t feeling the same way. Or, you were hoping for this thing to fly, and afterward, after you have brought this sick, anemic, thing of a sermon, someone said, “That, that…that was amazing!”

If you’re working through how the response of people affects your sense of worth/calling, there is a sort of vertigo of thinking you know, but “wow,” I don’t really know. You smack up against your own limits. I have to figure out how to do this from a grounded sense of place, and then from there, it belongs to somebody else.

Or, “that was so good, it was …

like the old [insert your name]”

If you’re a teacher, you’re building a body of work. Which also means you’re building a set of history and expectations…and you have grown. You aren’t who you were, and you can’t do it like you used to because you aren’t who you were.

The Spirit of God is about celebrating the past, but then transcending it and being led along the journey.

THEN, there’s all those things we’re suppose to balance, like,

Be vulnerable and honest and personal but not oo personal because this isn’t a therapy session and we need lots of Bible and not too much because it has to relate to what’s happening in our lives and in the world today but it can’t be political and it has to be challenging and deep and significant and at the same time easy for everybody to understand and it has to be funny but not too funny because you’re not a comedian you’re a pastor and while you’re at it mix it up and try new things and don’t get it in a rut but make sure to be consistent and talk about your own struggles, but not too much because that’s depressing. And we love stories about your family. But not too many. That can be weird. Just be vulnerable and honest and…

There’s all of these balances that we are always working on.

[VIA: Here again we have the principle of “living in the tension,” found in every discipline, every organization, every human heart. The problem is not the tension. The problem is the resolution of that tension. Tension drives us to constantly better balance, and to know that sometimes it’s okay to be one, and then other days it’s okay to be the other because times change, contexts change, and we change.]

Notice [Ezekiel 4]

Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side…eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel…

Ezekiel has been told to go do this in public so the people can see and hear the message I have for them. Sounds like a sermon.

There is a degree to which a sermon is:

  • performance art | do not miss the human part
  • guerilla theatre | you show up and “boom,” and then leave the people thinking they’ve got to wrestle with that
  • actions that evoke |

When you talk about the sermon as an art form you can already make statements just by what you wear, by who you are. E.g., John the Baptist

Acts 4

they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus…

They saw something and it changed everything. They experienced something, and they were never the same again. The sermon, sometimes, is witness.

if you don’t share it, speak it, tell it, point to it, express it, preach it, you’ll spontaneously combust.

I cannot wait to bring this.

[VIA: This reminds me of the Jeremiah 20:9 passage, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”]

[VIA: Ah…he just went to the Jeremiah passage.]

Jeremiah 2:14

Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder?

The sermon as witness is a reminder…

this isn’t what God has in mind…

You need to be reminded that you’re better than this, the sermon is better than this, because God is better than this. You are a child of God, and you may have settled and sold out. Now, you need to be jolted into remembering that this is not what I set out to do.

Mark 1:15

The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!

Sometimes the sermon is a big invitation; something big is going down, something huge is happening all over the place and everybody is welcome.

The sermon is sometimes a

  • return! | to turn from that way to this way
  • invitation | something great is happening
  • the fresh word | timely and necessary for now
  • an implicit critique | making a statement about the old word
  • the first punch |

Isaiah 52. What is a sermon?

Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Free yourself from the chains on your neck… For this is what the LORD says: “you were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed… How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Sometimes a sermon is a

  • sub – version | a version that says that there are other versions and other stories than the one we are currently experiencing
  • there’s another story… | and it’s better

That’s why this is dangerous. There’s a reason why the other story got a head of steam.

Luke 4

“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill in order to throw him off the cliff.

The response to Jesus’ first sermon is they wanted to kill him. What’s going on in Jesus’ sermon?

  • provocation | there are times when you simply provoke
  • loaded language
  • warning

There is always the chance that whatever is strange, foreign, and shocking, may simply be a bit ahead of its time. And when you bring the fresh word, and there are others around you with whom this is resonating, there is a chance that you will be misunderstood; that there are simply some who cannot see.

When you give a sermon, you open yourself up to…

misinterpretation and confusion and anger (and blogging) and ignorance and fear and jealousy and opinions and evaluation and critique and agendas and baggage and convictions and projections

and the possibility of

truth and light and hope and repentance and desire and compassion and longing and revolution and confession and inspiration and comfort and solidarity and salvation and resurrection

And when you do this, you don’t get to pick one or the other.

Acts 17

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

When you give a sermon, a mixed response may come your way. That’s just what comes with the territory.

“And God said…”

Of all the ways the poet could have used to describe the universe, he chooses speaking.

Words create new worlds. — “Tying the clouds together.”

There is a divine, redemptive, nuclear power in words. The sermon has the power to create whole new worlds.

There is a certain humility that comes with a sermon; you can only create so much. And at the same time, a firm conviction that this art form throughout history creates unbelievable things because someone was willing to stand in front of a crowd and say, “I have an idea.”

Outline of our time:

  • theological
  • conceptual
  • practical
  • personal

My hope is that these are

talks that start talks

Traditionally, the leader/speaker had the last word and they ended the discussion. But with Jesus, it’s less about having the last word, and more about having the first word. It’s not about ending the discussion, but rather about starting the question. Something was said, clear, compelling, etc.; but if it’s true, then it plunges you in to all sorts of mysteries and implications, etc.

If you can resolve a sermon by the end of the sermon, something is inherently flawed with the sermon. The Scripture is a movement from word to flesh, hearing it, and then incarnated, not just a word, but a way.

I refuse to just give sermons. I will commit to giving my absolute best.

May you have a renewed sense that you are a person that wants to speak with a fire in your belly.

[VIA: This installment could be summed up in this sentence: “It’s not because you have to say something, it’s because you have something to say.” Answering the question “Why?” is so critically important. In Bell style and with excellence, this first installment accomplishes this objective well.]

2 – Begin in the Beginning

What I’m interested in is the thing behind the thing behind the thing…the thing that deeply shapes what is on the surface.

This my premise:

Where and how you being the story and where and how you end the story shape and determine what story you’re telling…

So, let’s begin to the beginning

Genesis 1:11. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation…”

In a culture where it was common to worship the creation, you have a poem, the Bible begins with, in which the Creator endows the creation; that is, they’re distinct. An absolutely mind-bending radical idea in this day. And the creation has been endowed by the Creator with the ability to make more itself.

  • dasha – produce/sprout [VIA: תדשה הארץ]
  • progressive generativity
  • creation is going somewhere
  • dynamic not static
  • tomorrow will be different than today

Genesis 1:26, 28. “so that they may rule…” “full the earth and subdue it…”

  • rada – rule [VIA: וירדו בדגת הים]
  • kabash – subdue | a word of responsibility and stewardship [VIA: וכבשה]
  • participatory physicality
  • harmony within hierarchy
  • everything in its proper place
  • the appropriate ordering of creation

Genesis 1: 28, 22. “God blessed…”

  • barakh-bless [VIA: ויברך]
  • Soil and Spirit are united
  • heaven and earth are one
  • there isn’t “somewhere else” | the action is “here”

This is how the story starts. [VIA: I have used the illustration of Star Wars to illustrate this; that the epic series began in Episode IV, and it wasn’t until 22 years later did we discover what began at the beginning in Episode I. Here also, Bell gives his version of addressing the false dichotomy of the “sacred/secular,” bringing together all things. There is no “some glad morning when this life is over…I’ll fly away” in Genesis. One scholar I have read–Humberto Cassuto–however suggests that the “heavens and the earth,” is a phrase which does validate a two-story universe worldview; a heavens “above” and an earth “below.” It is unfair to juxtapose that with what Bell is saying in this particular presentation as more critical analysis is necessary. I do mention it here, however, to simply highlight that the interpretations of Genesis are diverse and complicated. And as with all other perspectives, coming to a “critically real” perspective of any passage, especially Genesis 1, is not an exercise in universal knowledge but rather a treading upon the surface of deep theological mysteries of which we can only glean. For the sake of full disclosure, I am personally in alignment with Bell’s teachings and appreciate his bringing to light the intricate beauties of the Scriptures in a world where imposing literalism often reigns supreme.]

Whatever it is that we love about life is all right here (in Genesis 1 & 2):

  • aesthetics | beauty
  • making things
  • relationship/partnership
  • worship
  • exploration
  • organizing
  • naming
  • learning
  • responsibility
  • [VIA: To which I would add, pleasure/delight — the name “Eden” — wholeness, identity, and (dare I suggest) evolution.]

Whatever you love to do, I guarantee you can trace its primal core and essence to something in Genesis 1 & 2.

What is it, that when you do it, you think, “Man, I could do this forever.” What is it, that when you do it, you lose track of time. [VIA: known as “flow“.]

The story starts here.

Now, let’s go to the end.

Revelation 21. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people…”

  • no more death
  • river of the water of life
  • the city
  • tree of life
  • healing of the nations
  • “I am making everything new!”

The story ends here. And the descriptions of the end of the story are physical and participatory. If you removed all of sin from the Bible, you would have a pamphlet; and you would have Genesis 1 & 2, and then Revelation 2-1 & 2-2 (hmm…). And you see that it starts in a garden, and ends in a city. And what is a city except a lot of organized gardens. If you remove sin from the Scripture, you still have a movement.

We’ll come back to this idea of dynamic and static; but this is the fundamental framework.

Genesis 3

  • disruption | of shalom [VIA: שלום] well-being, wholeness, health. Perhaps you could define “sin” as any way in which you are disrupting shalom.
  • rebellion | against the hierarchy. If there is a harmony within the hierarchy, if God is there and we are here, sin would be wanting to rearrange the hierarchy; “God, I don’t like the fact that you’re in my seat.” If we look to the physical to meet needs which only God can meet.
  • participation | if death enters the story, how have I participated in this entry?
  • missing | the mark; an archery term from Hebrew connotation.

Genesis 3 is not how the story begins. Genesis 3 is not how the story ends.

So, when we tell the story, we want to make sure that sin takes its proper place in the larger story; it’s serious, but it’s also temporary. We have to make sure we keep all the parts properly aligned.

  • confession (yadhah) is admission, recognition, declaration, and agreement [VIA: has the same root of תודה, to thank, praise.]
  • repentance (t’shuva!) is return [VIA: תשובה, to turn around.]

The story is about God…

  • renewing all things [Matthew 19]
  • restoring all things [Acts 3]
  • reconciling all things [Colossians 1]

If the story you are telling begins in Genesis 3, then the central issue is…

the removal of sin.

Getting rid of this problem is the central story line. If the story you are telling begins in Genesis 1, then the central issue is…

the restoration of shalom.

And this is kinda one of my central arguments. People may not have theological/technical language, and may not be very articulate, but I would argue that the average person listening to the average sermon begins to pick up a larger story whether you claim to be telling a larger story from the bits and pieces you give them, they will be creating some larger framework. And if it begins in Genesis 3, they will pick up after a while that the central deal is getting rid of sin. Genesis 3 is obviously a central piece of the restoration of shalom, but it takes its place within the larger story that you are telling.

If you begin in Genesis…

  • 3 – your central story is telling people what you aren’t.
  • 1 – perhaps you begin with what you are.

An evangelism method that begins with telling people that they’re sinners begins with a particular understanding of what the story is. And I would submit to you that it might be beginning a little late in the story, and it’s always better to begin at the beginning. Perhaps sin makes a lot more sense against a backdrop of the beauty of Creation.

  • 3 – disembodied evacuation | this place is jacked, and we’re going to get out of here…let me tell you how.
  • 1 – participatory physicality | this story is ultimately about getting you to properly participate with our Creator in the ongoing Creation of the world.

I think this is why people leave churches and feel “beat up.” Because the preacher’s story begins in Genesis 3. People will also begin to pick up that the “action is somewhere else.” I get concerned that people are someday going to be on the way up and God is on His way down and they’ll pass in the air. “Where are you going!?”

John 20…

  • John 2 water into wine | the first sign
  • John 4 officials son | the second sign
  • John 5 at the pool | the third sign
  • John 6 bread | the fourth sign (though no longer being numbered)
  • John 6 water | the fifth sign
  • John 9 blind man | the sixth sign
  • John 11 Lazarus | the seventh sign (lights should be blinking right now). Remember, 7 is associated with Creation.
  • John 20 | the “eighth sign”. If seven refers to the first week of Creation, then the 8th would refer to the first day of a New Creation.

The story is about Jesus’ resurrection beginning a new creation right here in the midst of this one.

Mary mistakes Jesus for a “gardener.” The actual Greek is “wink, wink…nudge, nudge.” There is a New Creation. The Old Creation had a death problem. The New Creation doesn’t. The resurrection inaugurates a New Creation.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is about God reaffirming the goodness of creation.

God is looking to restore it, redeem it, and God is looking for partners.

The story is about anticipating the coming day when heaven and earth are one again. (Heaven is where God is storing the earth’s future.)

This is Jesus’ prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Live now in a way that could be going on forever.

Some implications:

  • business | the exchange of goods–fair price for fair product. All of us involved in an exchange. This is actually rooted in a common good; everyone having what they need. Business produces, and is rooted in the shalom of Genesis, the proper ordering of Creation. “Triple-bottom line” businesses not only look at profit, but also environment and people.
  • art | the creative arranging of Creation; aesthetics. Efficiency and production isn’t God’s highest value. God wants you to enjoy life. Art reminds us that not all of our worth and value is based on how good we are. Making things is already blessed.
  • justice | poor and oppressed. The story is about restoring ALL things. The earth is properly capable of feeding everyone, but what is missing is rebellion, corruption, participation.

Is it possible that my sermon is handing people a bifurcated world in which the action happens in one realm, and then there’s another realm that is of lesser involvement. But if the story is grounded in Genesis 1, then everything is “in the action.”

This is the problem when people try to label things “Christian.” The labeling system doesn’t work.

When asking the question is it “this” or “this” (what we say, what we do…heart, or action, etc.) I like to say, “it looks like you’re about to embrace the whole thing.

A sermon, then, is the continuing insistence that through the resurrection of JEsus a whole new world is bursting forth right here int he midst of this one and everybody everywhere can be a part of it.

A sermon, then, is about helping people see this new creation with their own eyes.

One of the gifts of the sermon is empowering and equipping people to be able to spot it and do it.

Also, what you look for, you will find. Sometimes really good preaching and teaching has a “tour guide” dimension to it. You show them something that they would initially thin-slice it by saying “there’s nothing there for me,” that they would judge it…but then you look behind it, and look here, and look there. Look what that is too. Isn’t that incredible. Then, that person who initially judges can no longer sustain their thin-sliced perceptions and opinions.

A sermon, then, brings hope rooted not in escape but engagement, not in evacuation but reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.

I think that’s why people use the word “relevant,” because it tapped into something in the here and now.

A sermon, then, is never surprised when grace, beauty, meaning, order, compassion, truth and love show up in all sorts of unexpected people and places because it always has been God’s world, it is God’s world, and it always will be God’s world.

This then makes the whole world your rhetorical toolbox; without disclaimers about whether or not that person “believes.”

Maybe another way to say it, I want to be a part of things that will be in that new world. I want to act in such a way in which my actions flow right into whatever that world will be.

3 – The Science of Homiletical Architecture

Why do some communications have a certain thing, and others don’t. My premise:

  • A sermon has an engine.
  • An energy source.
  • A sermon comes from somewhere.

Above are various terms to explain. I would say it this way:

  • Why are you saying this?
  • Why do we need to hear this?
  • Why should we care?
  • Why do you care?
  • What’s the spark, impulse, insight, twist, revelation, truth, picture, reality that has compelled you to say these things to these people at this time?
  • …in 30 seconds.

You can tell how well a teaching is going to go based upon how hard they have worked to distill down to that spark, that engine. That comes from lots of work. What is the thing that is driving this whole thing? So, for this presentation: The Sermon is an ancient, sacred, art form and it’s time for a [new] generation to recapture it.

Often a sermon centers around…

  1. a moment |
  2. a movement |
  3. a mystery |

Some examples:

Matthew 21. Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

Some details. The temple is the center of the city to which Jesus is going. The fig tree was a representation of the central figures of authority. Jesus is on his way to declare the temple’s irrelevancy, and on his way in he curses a fig tree; a symbol of Jewish religious establishment. If you go around cursing that symbol, the religious establishment doesn’t go for that. Jesus “burns the flag.” This is a loaded, religious, social, political gesture that Jesus performs. Essentially he is saying some things about the system. This complex is going down, because it has turned it’s back on God and God is bringing judgment on it. Cursing a fig tree could get you killed. [VIA: A hint of this symbolism is found in Proverbs 27:18]. There is a moment here.

2 Kings 5. Now Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Aram. He was a great man in the sigh of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. … So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan…” … Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

At this time, people had “localized deities.” Each region had their own god. He’s living in Aram, and that god can’t heal. He goes to Israel, and that God does heal him. He enters into the “localized consciousness” and makes a huge leap; that this God is God of the whole world…this god is different.

But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also — when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

How many people in your congregations, following Jesus into their everyday life presents them with a multitude of ambiguous, fuzzy, situations, when it’s not crystal clear exactly what the right thing to do is? How many people could relate to the prayer of Naaman? How many people would be served by saying that some things are just fuzzy and ambiguous. If you’re teaching this, there is this moment of “ah…” then the whole teaching centers around that moment. What’s that about? “Following God puts us sometimes in some awkward situations; which is exactly where God wants us to be.”

Genesis 27. Who is it? Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau…”

When you first meet him, he is trying to be someone else.

Genesis 32. What is your name? “Jacob,” he answered.

Then, later on, he’s finally comfortable in his own skin. It’s then that God gives him his own destiny. There is a sort of movement there.

Matthew 7:6. Do not give to dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

How many of you have ever thought this is one of the most bizarre sayings anyone has ever said. The problem with the teaching is that this isn’t something that I was tempted to do in the first place. So, let’s back up.

Matthew 7:1.  Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others…

The pig comes after “don’t judge.” Well, what comes before that?

Matthew 6:25. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… Matthew 6:32. …and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Out of the do not worry, we get don’t judge, then don’t cast your pearls before pigs. If you are not to worry, ’cause your heavenly Father knows that you need them, then Jesus is saying, “Life in the kingdom is about entrusting your physical needs to God so that you live without worry and anxiety.” Judging is condemning people, marginalizing people, showing them contempt and disfavor as a way of controlling them. A pearl is a good thing. And pigs have a purpose. So, it’s not something good to something bad, it’s something good to something else. A pig has no way of appreciating the pearl. The way of the Kingdom is a way of entrusting yourself to God’s care and entrusting others to God’s care. We also try to control others by giving good things to people who are not able to appreciate them. As your heart aligns with God, which leads to entrusting others to God–leading to less controlling through negative things–which leads to being less controlling with good things.

Psalm 1. Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.

It’s hard to move away when your sitting than standing; when standing than walking. See the movement. Is there anything you’re walking with, anything you’re standing with, anything you’re sitting with.

So you have moment, you have movement. Then mystery.

Philippians 1:6. He who BEGAN a GOOD WORK in you will carry it on to COMPLETION…

Genesis | In the BEGINNING…It is GOOD… Thus the heavens and earth were COMPLETED

What might Paul be saying!? Brilliant. Another reference to Genesis. When you opened yourself up to God’s love, you were opening yourself up to the same creative energy that created the world.

Exodus 20. You shall not covet…

All other 9 commandments are externally discernible. The 10th is coveting. That’s because–an ancient commentary says–the 10th command is a command, but it’s also a reward. If you follow the first 9, you won’t want anyone else’s life. You ought to read it like a progression.

Revelation 4. and there before me was a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it… surrounding the throne were 24 other thrones… in the center, around the throne… then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center…

The picture here is of circles, and in the center, everyone is facing in because everyone knows that the action is there. We gather to remember that there is a center to the universe, and we’re not it. The psychological power of being reminded that [VIA: we’re not surrounded, we are surrounding]. The worship service doesn’t start at 11, it started an infinity ago and we just joined in at 11.

Everything in a sermon is related to everything else in the sermon.

There are these parts and they’re all related to each other, they give and take from each other, they push and pull each other.

  • name the parts
  • know the parts
  • be aware of the parts
  • feel the parts
  • step outside of the parts

If I were to name parts…

  • reading the passage
  • information
  • story
  • question
  • picture
  • rant
  • action
  • insight
  • observation
  • statistic
  • declaration
  • invitation

And if you did any of these parts the whole time, something would be wrong with the sermon; people would sleep, wonder if you actually knew anything, etc. The key of course is knowing what part you’re handling at each point in the sermon. Often a teaching is knowing and arranging a “flow.” If you don’t know the parts, the movement would simply be a straight, monotonous line.

It’s a bit like sausage and the law, if you like it and respect it don’t watch it being made.

I had an editor recently tell me that when they get a transcript, they first read through with an editor’s hat. But occasionally what they’re reading is so well done, they can take the editor’s hat off and just enjoy it. They can stop being an editor because a couple pages in they know they’re in good hands. And, this is not about entertaining and performing. Hopefully this is about working hard for the glory of God so that when people listen they know they’re in good hands.

[VIA: I have always had a difficult time with the denial of “entertaining” and “performing.” (This comment may be a bit semantic, but I think it’s important). Entertainment simply means to “hold the attention of,” and performing simply means to “execute,” “carry out,” or “accomplish” (from “forming.”) So, while I agree with the premise of what Bell is saying here, I would use the words “amuse/amusement” which is the absence of thoughtful consideration, and “dissipation” which is squandering or wasteful action. And, in my estimation, I believe this perspective is actually in alignment with the sentiments Bell himself adheres to which suggests that there is something beautiful and redemptive about performance and entertainment, and we ought not consider them “other.” And if communicating truly is an art and a science, then there are elements, “parts,” etc. of entertainment and performance that ought to be leveraged, that we can get better at doing; hence the conference. Please forgive me if this thought is too nit-picky. Again, I do agree with the spirit of his sentiment and what he is trying to communicate.]

You have

  • speed
  • intensity
  • tension
  • pacing
  • tone
  • posture
  • arc
  • openers that overwhelm
  • no rules other than knowing
  • storyboard

Up until the last minute, the best thing you can be doing is arranging.

There are no rules to getting your message across other than at least know what you’re doing. If you’re going to keep people in the dark, then at least know that. If you’re going to keep people high and emotional, know why. Know. Tension is your friend; just know how your friend behaves.

Regarding memorization, though at talk is long, there are really only a few parts. Name the parts, and memorize the clumps of parts. Break down the whole thing into its separate components.

You can do outlining physically as well too; objects can be notes too.

A sermon creates a picture, a space, an image, an experience, an encounter, a world, a place that allows people to find themselves in it

  • focused and yet open
  • said and yet unsaid
  • defining and yet imagining
  • resolute and yet unresolved

Often times sermons that are wide and broad quickly narrow in their conclusion. But a sermon is suppose to include people, not exclude them. If the landing point is narrow, it will isolate portions of your audience.

In other words, how many of you at different points in your journey have been different characters in the story?

Here’s one way of looking at this.

A | B | C | D | | | | | | | K | L | | | | P | Q | R | | | | | W | | |

You have some people in your congregation who are at A, and you articulate something in a sermon that would invite them to come to B. You have some at C, and you help them get to D. Etc. You have people across the spectrum. The beautiful thing that can happen in a sermon is when everybody is met where they are, and invited to the next place. How in this teaching can I think through where people are in their journey, and at key moments, pull back and craft it in such a way that I didn’t just hit “this,” but I realize that there is something else going on, and if I also hit “that” then it will include all these other things in the middle. That is the mystery and art of the sermon; creating something that people can find themselves in something no matter where they’re at.

Where is the “redemptive movement” on the spectrum? And that means it’s going to look different for different people.

Sometimes you are building a cathedral of words and what you’re doing is inviting people to walk through the front door for them to look up and see how beautiful it is. Hopefully, as you begin to build the picture, people are beginning to see themselves in the picture, in the sermon.

three disciples walking home from their rabbi’s house on Friday night…

…so it is with the Word of God. As it goes forth, each person swears that it was for them. That is the mystery of the sermon. Bringing a word, creating a space, giving a gift in which each person goes, that was for me.

4 – Radar, Buckets, Chunks, and the Marinade

Where do sermons come from? Every preacher has faced the existential horror of

the blank screen

I want to talk about how to get to the place  where you sit down to work, and every time you were consciously and intentionally working on a teaching, you were not starting with a blank screen? And I’m not talking about 40 hours of study and everything else goes away. That’s boring and doesn’t work.

There is a difference

[from] having to say something [to] having something to say

What would it be like if every time you got up to teach your feeling was “I can’t wait to share this?” For those of you who say, I do my best work under pressure on Saturday nights, you’re sick and you need help. For those of you who say, I like to let the Spirit move in the moment, what if you gave the Spirit 6 months to work?

I want to open you up to sermon preparation being

  • all around us
  • all the time
  • everywhere
  • everybody
  • vs. Tuesday at 9

Genesis 28. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

To begin with, God wants to give you radar to see Him in this place. And faith, is growing expanding consciousness to see the LORD; it’s waking up to the God who has been here all along, I’ve just been sleeping. So I begin with the premise that God is in this place, and I will somehow, in this encounter, I will be invited to wake up, to see.

John 5. “My Father is always at his work to this very day…”

One of the reasons why we keep using the word “art” is because the artist is hypersensitive to the world around them. That’s what a teacher does, and then puts words to those observations and connections. Often times what you’re doing is pointing out something that’s been there the whole time, and what you’ve been given is the gift of waking up and now you’re helping others to wake up.

Couple ways to approach this.

  1. life
  2. biblical text

If I encounter something that grabs me, something that jumps out, I

  • write it down
  • take a picture of it
  • save it
  • ask for it
  • get it
  • clip it
  • tear it out
  • store it
  • mark it
  • remember it
  • with no edit button | you don’t need to know why, or what it’s going to be for. Don’t over “filter” it. Leave it in its raw creative potential. In other words, just capture it.

When working with a text

  • memorize it | it allows the text to go with you
  • inhale | how others have commented on the passage?
  • words | is there a picture behind the word?
  • location | what else takes place here?
  • culture
  • concepts
  • stories | are there other stories like this? do the stories connect? similarities? differences?
  • time | when; what else was going on?
  • pictures
  • actions | does anyone do anything?
  • connections

If I couldn’t use any biblical or religious language, how would I describe this?

  • to a child?
  • to a Martian? | if it’s Christian, it’s fully human. First, you have to believe that. Second, you have to communicate like a regular human being.
  • without words?
  • using only drawings and pictures?
  • using only actors?

Now, some questions,

  • What is the thing behind the thing?
  • What is the mystery behind the mystery?
  • What is the truth behind the truth?

Is there any way to

  • enact it
  • perform it
  • show it
  • do it
  • ignore it
  • circle around it
  • hand it out

Buckets…what I create when I “capture” something…

  • one per idea/fragment/insight/sentence
  • one a week…
  • no pressure, no time frame
  • revisiting regularly
  • intention and attention
  • series
  • some buckets grow
  • if it isn’t hot, drop it
  • accumulating vs. arranging

My experience is that buckets grow into chunks as you continue to add material to each bucket.

The marinade. If you threw the sauce on 5 min. before I showed up and then threw it on the grill, I’d know. If you soaked in it for a while, however, you’ll say, “now that is a marinade.” Certain things have to have time to soak.

5 – Death by Paper Cuts

A while ago I received a letter from a young man who was very encouraging and supportive. He went on at great length to tell me how much he appreciates the work that I do. And he said, Let me tell you just how much I appreciate you. Some people on Facebook were saying you were nothing but fluff and irrelevance, but I slammed them and defended you. Got your back, dude.

Now, I put the letter down, and my impulse was not gratitude. Two words were burning at the front of my brain and heart: “fluff” and “irrelevance.” His attempt was honest and kind and appreciative and love. But, this letter is what I call,

a chocolate covered turd

At first glance, it appears attractive and maybe even pleasing to the palate. And then you take a bite of the chewy center. The intent of the encounter was support and appreciation, but the problem is what I extracted from it and took away was a bit of a mixed blessing. Now, the “fluff” and “irrelevance” got under my skin and bothered me. But what was more insidious was my frustration that the “fluff and irrelevance” comment was hard to just slough off. It worked at one level, and at the same time it had a sandpaper grain on the nerves. My experience has been, that it is difficult to shake these sorts of things that come your way; they sometimes even come with the noblest of intentions and you walk away limping.

How many of you have had this…

the nine and the one

Ten bits of feedback and nine of them are “not since Moses came down the mountain…” But then the one. The one who sent the email, the one who walked out, the one who complained. And again, it’s not just the content, it’s the “I’m suppose to be able to shake this stuff.”

Or, how many of you have heard a rumor about yourself? How many of you have heard a rumor about yourself that was true? Yeah, it’s not rumor anymore. We call it news.

Acts 21. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

If you’re in leadership in any community, you open yourself up to all of these things; comments, rumors, conversations that are not really conversations.

Or maybe you have one of these in your life:

The Official Committee for Doctrinal Purity, Orthodox Rhetoric and General Theological Correctness

Self-appointed, of course. That individual or contingent. And no matter how well studied and learned and well intentioned they are, they have an ability to speak and give feedback at the exact moments when you don’t need it. And often you just need a little space between the sermon and the comments. This discussion is just a little off timing.

Over the years, you get beaten down, and it’s sometimes from big heavy, awful things (broken relationships, etc.) But often it’s those continuing interactions, rumors, comments, etc. I call this

death by paper cuts

It’s easy to name exhaustion, burn-out, pain, etc., from the big things. But what I would argue is even more painful and wounding are all the other little tiny things that we absorb over time, but some how convinced that we shouldn’t be bothered by. And we’re bleeding, but not from the big things, but a thousand of those little moments. What I’ve learned is that it can affect us deep in the bones because they add up over time, and you can’t really name it, or identify it.

So, a couple things that can happen.

  • We hold back | in the early days we went for it. But after the paper cuts begin, we begin to back off.
  • lists/labels | “those people are…”
  • revenge | passive revenge (I don’t feel like giving you my best), or active (wanting to harm or slander).

It’s very easy for these forces to be working on us at this subterranean level.

My central premise is, to stay in this game, and not just to have something to say, but to actually have more and more to say, to be more and more filled with wonder and awe with resurrection and the wonder and mystery of God, about Church, and the Kingdom… my experience has been, is that the one thing we were not told, the one thing we were not told is that you have to learn how to forgive.

Now, it’s dangerous to forgive a mass of people, ’cause it’s sometimes just a mass. It’s harder to be specific. We’re not just students of forgiveness; we have to get really really good at forgiving.

Why do these paper cuts hurt and bother me? Because I want to control what people say and how they respond to what I say. And when the paper cuts come, mine down deep into what that is, the root source of your discomfort and hurt. [VIA: Like the “thing behind the thing.”]

Sheep have teeth.

When I’m talking about forgiveness, there are a few things I’m not talking about.

Proverbs 26:11. As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.

The Scriptures continually refer to the fact that some people are toxic.

Titus 3:10. Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time…

You are not an ecclesiastical punching bag. You are a precious resource, and a gift to your community.

Luke 12:13. Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me, a judge or an arbiter between you?”

I don’t know if you’ve heard this enough, but it’s okay to guard that resource enough so you can be used effectively to lead people to resurrection.

…love your neighbor as yourself.

Don’t forget to love yourself. So when we talk about forgiveness, we’re not talking about not having healthy boundaries, or living with toxic behaviors, etc.

Luke 23. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Forgiveness has a cost and it has a pattern. I believe it is built into the fabric of the universe; it is how the cosmos operates. And the Christ pattern of forgiveness involves death into resurrection. It is a practice, discipline, rhythm, ritual, which is painful and costly and hard, like all deaths are, but it leads to resurrection. So, I have to suffer the agony of the wound, name it, own it, embrace it, call it what it is,–this hurts because…–but then go all the way to the bottom of it, and I’m still alive, that death will lead to a resurrection.

Tim Keller: There is another option, however. You can forgive. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out on the other person. It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life long living death of bitterness and cynicism. (From “Reason For God”)

Parker Palmer: …The cross says, “The pain stops here.” The way of the cross is a way of absorbing pain, not passing it on, a way that transforms pain from destructive impulse into creative power. When Jesus accepted the cross, his death opened up a channel for the redeeming power of love.

Blank sheet of paper. Is there anybody you need to forgive. Is there any encounter that you are carrying around with you. Is there any church that you use to work at that you need to set free. Any committee, small group, etc. that you need to forgive. Because underneath all the crafting of a sermon is the love we have for the people we are preaching to. And it’s hard, and it’s painful and it feels like a death, but it leads to life.

— VIA —

So, with over 8300 words in these notes, it’s hard to say much in conclusion. There were portions that are old standards communicated in fresh ways, and there are new realities that we are facing for our context of which Bell’s insights are invaluable. My bottom line, gut reaction after viewing all of these in virtually one sitting is that may God grant us more preachers/teachers/communicators who will take seriously this “way” of speaking truth, this “journey” of communication, this “path” of preaching. In a world full of 3-point sermons about sin, depravity, and hell, may God raise up more preachers who will bring truth in vehicles of art and story which journey us towards life, blessings, resurrection.

Thanks Rob. Well done, good and faithful servant.