It’s a homiletical bonanza…
This is because the Episcopal Preaching Foundation’s yearly Preaching Excellence Program just wrapped up; and here’s an article summarizing the presentations.
A few notes:
- On Tom Troeger’s poetry selections: perfect! I often use these two poems myself in talking about what Anglican preaching should be. I love George Herbert’s poetry in general and these two are fantastic choices.
- Speaking of George Herbert and “general”, M and I were thrilled on Sunday to sing one of his texts to one of our favorite tunes—General Seminary. (I forget the hymn number…)
- As they seem to have noted, a life-long commitment to spiritual practices and disciplines rooted in Scripture is the chief way of becoming a better interpreter of Scripture and therefore a better preacher. The article did not mention if they promoted any particular practices, but you know what I recommend…
- Playing with the Scriptures is precisely what we do when we read for preaching—but play can only be edifying play when it is in the communal practices of the faith. If the Scriptures are a great field in which we run and play, the boundaries are marked out by the creeds and the playground at the center is the experience of the Triune God rooted in the Mass and Office.
- As for the intersection of liturgy, preaching and music, the way the article presents the presentation seems almost backward to me. A proper homily is not something separate from the liturgy. Rather, it is an integral part of it. It’s the improv section within the liturgy. Thus, when considering the very shape and nature of the sermon, the preacher should think carefully—yes, about the hymns, but not just the hymns—about the whole liturgy and consider how the homily will be an agent for clarifying how the whole liturgy is an invitation into the presence of God. (And I don’t think, from the sounds of it, that the presenter would disagree with me; it’s just a matter of emphasis…)
I have recently been reading “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics” by Fr. Samuel Wells (chaplain at Duke, I think) which deals with ethics, but his thoughts seem to apply for me to preaching as well.
He bases his ideas on improvisational theater: An improvising actor says something onstage, and this is an “offer” to the other actors. The other actors can then respond by either (a) blocking (i.e., taking the dialogue in a totally different direction from that which is offered), or (b) accepting (i.e., going along with the idea offered and building on it) or (c) what Wells describes as “overaccepting” it (i.e., embracing the “offer” wholeheartedly and pressing it even beyond expectations).
For the preacher, I see the appointed piece of Holy Scripture as “making the offer”. The preacher can then react in one of these three ways: (1) by rejecting the Scripture which is offered and preaching on something else; or (2) by accepting the Scripture offered, and explicating and exegeting it effectively; or (3) by embracing the Scripture, celebrating it, plumbing its depths, uncovering its mystical implications, and taking the sermon beyond the merely obvious dimensions — a sort of what I cal the “Yes, but that’s not all….” approach.
Each of these approaches is, of course “adequate”, but (3) is where the Holy Spirit really gets to show His/Her stuff! It comes down to asking prayerfully: “What is here that is not immediately evident?” “What is here that could be easily overlooked?” “What is ‘new’ here?”
And, by the way, I heartily recommend Fr. Wells’ book on ethics in-and-of itself.