Baking Biscuits: My Theology of Preaching
Preheating the oven is where this process starts. Likewise the sermon begins with the week that I have spent loving and supporting my faith community. It is because of my commitment to them and our walk of discipleship together that this sermon can bake, rise and warm and therefore be heard by ears that are prepared.
I make biscuits weekly. They are not fancy. Richard Lischer in The End of Words describes sermons as, “such stories do not entertain, they do something far better. They sustain” (Lischer 2005: 107). And so it is with my biscuits and sermons, they are simply meant to nourish the family that gathers at our table for the work that they have to do that day.
The ingredients are gathered, measured and weighed. What of this can be done by eye or feel are due to years of carefully measuring. I expect the same will be true for preaching: with careful practice in form, balance and listening that someday I may be able to conceive, write and preach a sermon by feel, but not today. Today I pay close attention to the homileticians who have come before me.
The ingredients gathered are good quality and locally sourced. The buttermilk and butter are from a dairy in Hillsborough. My examples that draw the congregation in will be locally sourced also. They are stories from my life, our neighborhood and our state. These local stories open our eyes to where God is working and draw us in to be a part of the Story in a tangible way.
The flour is the bulk of the ingredients, as is scripture. Private time reading scripture, dislocated exegesis, understanding the pericope, understanding the book, placing the pericope in the scope of canon, exegesis in Greek and commentaries are the bulk of sermon preparation. Relating the scripture to the community of faith and the marginalized for whom we are to care is the bulk of the sermon.
“The preacher’s sermon takes its spirit, style and purpose from the biblical text…Thus at the center of our calling lies an imaginative act of reading that culminates in a public performance of what has been read” Lischer 2005: 92).
The fat, in this case butter, is full of flavor. For me the thing that gives scripture flavor are the stories of the marginalized for whom God calls us to care. “How can our sermons participate in God’s big plan? How can they become instruments in reconciliation? We rightfully preach reconciliation locally, not because we are good postmodernists, eschewing the Grand Narrative and all that, but because we are good pastors who know how to discern the signs of readiness among the congregation for difficult and challenging words” (Lischer 2005: 134).
Speaking their needs must be thoroughly incorporated into the Word, ideally to the point that one cannot hear the Word without hearing God’s call to discipleship. I am grateful for my experiences with migrant agriculture workers, folks with disabilities, immigrants, and people who struggle with mental health. Spending time with children and the elderly also opens my eyes to the those who are marginalized even within the walls of the church.
The majority of these ingredients are shelf stable (they are scripture, church tradition and past experiences), even the butter can be kept in the fridge for three months, but the buttermilk needs to be fresh. A good sermon requires for me to pay attention to my spiritual life and my discipleship. A side effect of this important work is that I can bring fresh eyes and a fresh story to the people of God.
The trade secret to light and fluffy biscuits is to stir as little as possible once the buttermilk has been added. If you can combine the last of the ingredients with 3 or 4 trips of the wooden spoon around the bowl then you are in good shape.
Touch this dough the minimum number of times to combine and knead, if you can do it in three then you are golden. It’s hard not to knead more, but heed my advice for a light and airy biscuit. And with the sermon, the least of myself that I can put in gives more room for the Light. In my little experience, I have already discovered that the first thoughts and the easy ideas typically contain a lot more of me than the ones over which I struggle and pray. Working to get out-of-the-way of the Holy Spirit seems to make a better sermon.
“The preacher’s job is at once easier and more impossible than many have imagined, for he or she is trying to do nothing less than shape the language of the sermon to a living reality among the people of God–to make them conform to Jesus” (Lischer 2005: 8).
“They listen to God’s word on behalf of others and, in the face of cultural interference, make bold reply…which is to reflect the holiness of God and to effect reconciliation among God’s creatures” (Lischer 2005: 41).
The sermon may be good but it can’t tie up every loose end in the world and be true to our reality. It should leave behind a little mess, an opportunity for us clean together. Bits of flour will inevitably fall on the baker, the eater, and the places that the sermon has touched. If it leaves an opportunity for us to work together, then this might not be such a bad thing. God cannot be contained and any sermon that leaves a spotless kitchen should be suspect.
Lischer, Richard. End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.