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preaching and praying in poetry and prose – andrew butcher

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I like using other people’s words when I preach. I don’t mean that I plagiarise sermons from lastminutepreaching.com (if there is such a site!). Rather, I find the poems of Joy Cowley or James K. Baxter or the prayers of Karl Barth or John Calvin to be a wonderful addition to what Scripture says and what I say.

My view is that generations before me have grappled with preaching Scripture and have productively and positively expressed their challenges in fine poetry and flowing prose. In the pulpit I am a mortal at the feet of giants. I am following a long and wonderful tradition of men and women who have opened the pages of Scripture and said ‘hear what the Spirit is saying to the church’.  In that way, the words of others really can add to our preaching. They are like spices on food: they enhance and bring out latent flavours.

Words other than our own and Scripture’s can also subtract from our preaching. We can be tempted by writers we like, or films we watch, or music we hear and think that because we like it, we will put it in our sermon. What can then happen is that a sermon can end up like a badly edited book, laden with extraneous material that diverts from the main story, confuses the reader, and is less of a sweet-smelling potpourri and more of a messy mishmash. That’s where reading the sermon aloud beforehand, if only to yourself (and better if to someone else) takes care of keeping in that which contributes to our understanding of Scripture and taking out that which diverts from it.

We are not the first people to ever preach a particular passage or to ask life’s persistent questions. Where we can, where it’s useful and where it’s edifying, we should look at what others have said, and whether in poetry or in prose, say it again.

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