Relating Faith to Life
by Jim Bankston on Monday, June 27, 2016
My passion for preaching is that one’s faith should be related to life, to what is happening in the world. Faith only has meaning insofar as it is related to real life with all of its joys and challenges. Significant preaching always relates faith to life. I think it’s about more than pastoral matters such as forgiveness for those who have wronged you, kindness in a harsh world, positive thinking in the face of negativity and such, as legitimate as these qualities are. But faith is lived out not only in an interpersonal context but also in the context of larger issues, such as terrorism, natural disasters, untimely deaths, debilitating diseases, political realities, tragedy, and other aspects of our common life on this planet. Theologian Karl Barth supposedly said that one should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. I think the spirit of that still has merit in our social media world.
I begin sermon preparation each week with a series of questions. What is the most important thing that has happened this week? What is the most significant word from the Bible this week? How are both related to my life and to the lives of those to whom I preach and pastor? Obviously, the answers to these questions offer some flexibility, some opportunity for the preacher to evaluate, interpret, and shape. The most important thing that has happened in the week could be global or national or regional or local or parochial. Lots of things of significance happen each week. Some demand to be addressed in a sermon; others can be subtle but just as significant for a local community. The most significant word from scripture could come from any of the four lectionary texts for the day. I am a lectionary preacher, but I think what I am suggesting could be adapted to other methods of choosing scripture. It could be a theme, a direct word, even an undercurrent in the text. Let me cite a recent example. President Obama recently announced a successful negotiation for the prisoners held in Iran to be released. It happened to be the same week that the gospel reading was from Luke Chapter 4, Jesus preaching about release of captives in his home town of Nazareth. You remember that in Luke’s account that event became quite emotional. So, I might begin a sermon by referencing the release of prisoners in Iran, proceed to talk about other things that hold us captive, and reference Jesus as the one to set us free. This is just a simple example of how events in the world relate to the Bible and to our personal lives.
I like for the movement in a sermon to be from Specific to General to Biblical to Personal.
- Specific – Release of captives in Iran
- General – We all can identify with the agony of being held captive to something
- Biblical – Jesus has come to release captives
- Personal – Today, you can be set free from that which binds you, i.e. anger, fear, resentment, whatever it is that one needs to let go.
Obviously there is much to shape and emphasize in such a sermon, but this process allows a preacher to identify important happenings in the world, to draw people into the issues or emotions raised, to hear a particular word from the scripture related to the concern, and to find a personal word relevant to one’s life. It is a pattern I try to follow in preaching. The introductory event could be just a way to get at a concern that the scripture raises or it could be something about which I want to offer commentary. Likewise, I could spend more time with the word from scripture in relation to the larger context, background material, Greek words, related texts etc. Or, I could simply focus on one word or theme, whatever it takes to address effectively how one lives faithfully in today’s world.
My passion for preaching is that one’s faith should be related to life, to what is happening in the world, and to real human circumstances so that one might live faithfully and effectively in our world today.
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