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andrew picard: embodied preaching

This blog, and the people connected to it, are rightly committed to biblical preaching. My question is what do we mean by ‘biblical preaching’? We all acknowledge that this means engaging seriously with scripture and allowing that engagement to shape the direction and contours of the sermon. However, is that all that constitutes biblical preaching?

This week I heard, what I thought was an outstanding sermon at our community worship. However, the speaker stressed that this wasn’t a sermon but reflections on the theme of “Cross-Shattered Conversations”. So, what was it that made me think that this was a sermon despite his stress that it wasn’t?

His message wasn’t a detailed exegesis of a single biblical passage, but rather a reflection on the central significance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He brilliantly wove together his journey in this particular context with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing how it has shattered and shaped his life and how it shatters and shapes our lives. For me, this was an event where the living God spoke a clear and present word to those who Christ had gathered together that morning. I want to argue that this must be at the heart of preaching if it is to be biblical.

My concern about defining preaching as biblical solely by the quality of the exegesis is that it can lead to disembodied preaching that offers interesting ideas about a hypothesis called God to which we give cognitive assent. Preaching is surely more than delivering the 2000 word essay you wrote at seminary interspersed with 2 illustrations and a poem. Exegeting the text without exegeting the context where God’s Word is being spoken can lead to preaching that feels like we are carving up a dead rat in a science lab rather than encountering the living God. Biblical preaching is never less than serious exegesis, but it is much more (see Paul Windsor’s five corners).

I love John Webster’s conviction that Jesus Christ is – and he is present. I think this should make a difference in our preaching. I believe that biblical preaching is an event where we encounter a clear and present word from the living God who is clearly present. Therefore, if preaching is anything, it is personal – a word from the living God to you. Preaching is a word from God for these people in this place at this time. Biblical preaching is embodied preaching. It calls for preachers to have the courage to look people they know and love in the eye, people who know and love them and would know if they were faking it, and speak God’s words of death and resurrection. As hard as this kind of preaching is, I believe it is at the heart of biblical preaching because Jesus Christ is, and he is present, speaking his clear and present word.

If preaching is an event where the living God speaks to this particular people, our sermons shouldn’t make complete sense outside of the context they are preached because they find their roots in this particular life together. The best preachers are not the superstars we listen to on the internet, but the ones who know us and love us and who God uses to speak a clear and present word to us each week. What made the sermon I heard this week so powerful was it was spoken by someone we knew and loved, who God had shaped by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and who called us to do the same – a clear and present word from the living God who is clearly present.

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Andrew Picard is Director of Community Life at Laidlaw College where he has commenced teaching the Preaching course in the curriculum as of 2010.

2 Comments

  1. Scott Mackay says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but I sense a dichotomy emerging here between the communication of scripture, and preaching as the present word of God. I agree that biblical preaching is a ‘word from God for these people in this place at this time’. But I trust that is the case because it is true of the scriptures themselves. If preaching is merely a verbalised exegetical essay it’s because we don’t understand the nature of the Bible.

    Christ is present indeed, but present through his Word spoken to us by the Spirit. Is that a reasonable clarification? I could well be reading too much between the lines.

    Thanks

    1. Andrew Picard says:

      Hi Scott, sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for your clarification. I’m not entirely sure, but I think we’re saying the same thing. I totally agree with you about the nature of scripture. However, many of our sermons can be exegetically correct and yet have no connection to life as we know it. This was my tendency when I first began preaching – exegesis, exegesis, exegesis. Whilst this is primary, if it is not matched with an emphasis on exegeting life as we know it (so that our preaching speaks God’s word for today), preaching can become a fairly dry, aloof exercise.

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