Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Book 'em" - Will Willimon on Preaching

-- I don't usually do reposts, but this is one of the most exceptional essays on preaching I've ever read.  Preaching is not easy.  This is why. --

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story "Revelation," Ruby Turpin is sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, evaluating each person around her. Ruby judges herself to be superior, by more than a grade or two, to everyone there, especially to a poor, unkempt, teenaged wretch seated across from her who is reading a book. Ruby thinks it sad that the girl’s parents did not groom her more attractively. Perish the thought of having a child as scowling as this one.
As for the "ugly" child, Mary Grace, she listens for a while as Ruby chatters outloud about the superiority of poor blacks over "white trash." Then, without warning, Mary Grace fixes her steely eyes on Ruby and hurls her book across the room. The book hits Ruby in the head and she falls to the floor with Mary Grace on top of her hissing into her ear; "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!"
This, says O’Connor, is the violent, shocked beginning of Ruby’s redemption, the catalyst for her repentance and her heavenly vision. Revelation often begins when a large book hits you on the head.
Now, the Bible is a violent book. That’s good, because we are very violent people. Something about our system of government makes an average of 2,000 New Yorkers want to kill one another. This is the system that we graciously offer to the people of Iraq.
But in Luke 4, in Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, the violence is different. Here the violence is due not to the aspirations of American democracy or lust for national security, but rather to Jesus. All the Gospels agree that from the moment Jesus sets foot in the pulpit, things get nasty.
A friend of mine returned from an audience with His Holiness the Dali Lama. "When his Holiness speaks," my friend said, "everyone in the room becomes quiet, serene and peaceful." Not so with Jesus. Things were fine in Nazareth until Jesus opened his mouth and all hell broke lose.
And this was only his first sermon! One might have thought that Jesus would have used a more effective rhetorical strategy, would have saved inflammatory speech until he had taken the time to build trust, to win people’s affection, to contextualize his message -- as we are urged to do in homiletics classes.
No, instead he threw the book at them, hit them right between the eyes with Isaiah, and jabbed them with First Kings, right to the jaw, left hook. Beaten, but not bowed, the congregation struggled to its feet, regrouped and attempted to throw the preacher off a cliff. And Jesus "went on his way."  ...

To continue reading this essay, click here.

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