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the challenge of beginning a sermon – lynne baab

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I’m working on a sermon focused on the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1. My sermon is part of a sermon series on the connections between prayer and mission. I chose Paul’s prayer because I think it shows the upward spiral of the Christian life when we pursue knowledge of God coupled with obedience in actions. Paul prays that the Colossians may be “filled with the knowledge of God in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good word and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (verses 9 and 10).

For my sermon, I’ve got my main point: that as we pray for ourselves and others, we need to pray for knowledge of God that urges us into fruit-bearing actions, which will help us continue to grow in the knowledge of God. I’m planning to explain some things about the prayer. Then I’ve got two longish stories and a couple of small stories that show what this looks like in real life. I’ll have a bit of congregational participation: one of the main stories is about a mission experience my husband I had, and I’m going to ask people to raise their hands if they’ve been involved in mission that has helped them grow in knowledge of God. I’ve got a nice twist for the last few minutes, which I think helps makes a sermon lively. Toward the end of the sermon I’ll bring in verses 11 and 12 of the prayer and go back to the stories I’ve told to illustrate why, when we pray for mission, we also need to pray for an attitude of endurance, patience and thankfulness.

So the sermon is almost ready.

But I don’t have a good opening story. I want to talk about this spiral upward, which contrasts with the endless circular and repetitive cycle that is a common view of life in many philosophies and religions. Should I talk about repetitive circles in my introduction as a contrast with an upward spiral? Or maybe I should tell a story that illustrates how good things often build on themselves. After all, upward spirals happen in all sorts of arenas of life. Or I could bring in a visual aid of some sort that illustrates a spiral, or use a photo of a spiral. None of these options feels right, and I’m glad I have some more time to ponder how I will open the sermon.

When I hear sermons, I watch for how the preacher opens them. Some preachers dive into the text immediately. Some tell vivid opening stories that engage the interest of the listener but really don’t connect very much with the sermon topic. Sometimes I hear an opening story that I think is ideal. It engages the listeners because it’s interesting and well told, and it touches on the main theme of the sermon in a way that acts as a bridge between real life and the passage. But it doesn’t jump the gun; it doesn’t illustrate what the passage looks like in real life, which in my view should usually happen later in the sermon.

So I’m still struggling to find an opening story for my upcoming sermon. Will it be ideal? Or just okay? Or will I be tempted to jump right into describing the upward spiral I see in Colossians 1? I find it interesting that so often for me, some parts of the sermon fall together very quickly and other parts take so much pondering and praying.

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