Homiletics 2 File 14 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: Paul >> PAUL: All right, then. Once I've got my text in mind let's say I'm going to preach on the gospel of the day is there a system for working with the text, doing the exegetical work? >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: Well, certainly there's no single system for doing that, but I do think it's very helpful for every preacher to work with some system that will take him through the essential elements. You probably worked with a system in your Homiletics 1 course. Now, you've had a different professor than I've had, and so he may have given you some steps to follow. To be honest with you, I certainly think it is possible, yes, to have a systematic order of steps that will take us through those things that we want to discover in every exegetical process, and then, later on, working also through the preaching of the sermon itself. I would suggest that in this process of invention, we've already discovered the first step, which was to make an appropriate text selection. Then I would say Step 2 is to consider the liturgical context. The liturgical context, of course, is the setting in which the sermon will be heard by your members, and that has a great deal to do with what will happen in the actual preaching of the sermon itself. It makes us sensitive to the setting in which people hear and, therefore, gives us some guidelines on how we should be addressing the expectations of our worshippers. Let's talk for just a second about the liturgical setting as far as the worship service itself. When people come into our worship services on Sunday morning, they are coming to a particular appointed time and place. That is to say, in our practice you're not going out and finding them on the street corners or walking rapidly down the sidewalk. No. They have decided to be in this particular sanctuary on Sunday morning at this particular time. And that definitely shapes what their expectations for the sermon might be. We can assume, for example, that they come to us on Sunday morning with a devotion of interest. They really want to hear what we have to say to them. We know that's true to greater or lesser degrees, but it is true that anyone in our country could have chosen not to be there on Sunday morning, and if we realize that people have come to us with an expectation to hear and give us their attention, it means, for example, that we don't have to entertain. They're not there to be entertained. They can get better entertainment freely on cable TV on Sunday morning as well. They've come there to hear God's word, and we can assume that we could simply deliver that to them. Doesn't mean we're not going to do our best to be lively in our delivery, to be picturesque in our illustrations. We certainly will be both. But we can anticipate that they really want to hear the substance of God's word, because they come at this appointed time, this appointed place. Another aspect of the worship service itself is that it is the highest and best gathering of God's people each week. God's people get together in lots of settings. On Tuesdays at the office where you have another fellow Christian who is not a member of your congregation and you have a wonderful time there where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name. The congregation itself meets in other settings and other times. On Thursdays for softball games and so on. But Sunday morning, and also perhaps an appointed Wednesday night Lenten service and so on, would be the highest and best gathering of Christians during the week. And that says a lot about what we're going to do in preaching. This is going to be the moments of the week that to which we devote our fullest attention and give our very best effort. We are going to put hours of preparation into these 15 to 20 minutes because these are the most focused moments of the entire week for our people to hear and learn from God's word. It certainly also means, as the highest and best time of the week, that we are going to address the preaching moment with dignity, with a certain appropriate formality. Again, not saying it's going to be impersonal or cold, but it's certainly going to be the very best that we can offer in terms of quality, in terms of dignity, in terms of something other than the way we would get together and chat during the softball game on Thursday night. Certainly also as we gather together in the worship service, we anticipate that our audience is primarily believers. Now, that has impact on how we preach. It means that we can anticipate that our hearers know something of the gospel, for the most part. Most of them, we assume to be believers. But this doesn't really mean what we might think in terms of giving us license to short shrift the essentials of the faith. For example, to say, "Well, my hearers were all believers, they're my members, primarily, so I don't actually have to talk about Jesus dying on the cross." Quite the contrary. The reality is, the cross of Christ will be the point of every sermon. Remember the gospel is to predominate above all else. In fact, Walther even says, in "Law and Gospel," that if at the end of the sermon you have not given your hearers sufficient gospel that someone could be saved who has never heard God's word before, then his blood is on your head. Now, that, of course, we must always keep in mind. There's the possibility that we will have someone in church who has never heard God's word before, and will never hear it again. But more than that, our own hearers need to hear the gospel as predominant in preaching every week. Because, remember, that is what motivates good works. It's what keeps us in the faith. So then the real challenge in recognizing that most of our hearers are already believers is to present the cross of Jesus Christ in a way that uniquely develops this particular text, that gives the applications of the cross that are unique to this particular text, so that the same message, the cross, is new and fresh and different every week. In other words, the fact that you're preaching to your own people, primarily believers, Sunday after Sunday, does not lighten the burden, does not give you license to do less. It requires that you work harder and be more creative to do more in giving what this particular text offers this week that will not be offered in a different text next Sunday. Then also, the fact that we are gathering together in this appointed time and place on Sunday morning in this highest and best setting means also that there are certain parameters on our time in the service. If you meet someone on the street corner, perhaps you have, well, 20 seconds to get his attention. If, on the other hand, you were preaching at a tent rally, where people came for the evening, then you might preach for an hour. In our setting, on a Sunday morning, in a liturgical setting of Lutheran worship, we anticipate that the sermon will usually be in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 minutes. There's nothing magical about that. In Luther's day, preaching an hour was not uncommon, and some people would argue that we should preach a good deal less than 15 minutes today. I would not agree. I think that the time frame that has been traditional for a number of years, in that 15 to 20 minute range, is still very practical. Certainly people are able to hold their attention span for that long in many other settings, like between commercials on a sitcom, but also we are limited to perhaps a maximum of 20 minutes, plus a little bit, because we also want to put the sermon in the liturgical context which includes the readings, the Creed, hymns, and the Lord's supper, all of which also are means of grace by which the Holy Spirit works. And we are perhaps wise to maintain that liturgical setting simply because the Sundays when we do blow it, our people are still being fed by the word in the liturgy and, if it's a communion Sunday also, in the sacrament as well. So that puts some parameters on what we're going to do in the preaching within the service context. It's also true that the particular elements of the service have a great deal to say about what we're going to do in the sermon. For example, we begin the service with the invocation: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," and that reminds us that everything we're doing in our sermon will also be speaking as the Lord speaks. We do not stand up there as free agents, as individuals, to exercise and share our own judgment. When we speak from the pulpit, we must be able to say with confidence, "Thus sayest the Lord." The confession of sins, the absolution that come early in our service, also shape our sermons, don't they. They're a reminder to us that our job is to proclaim forgiveness and salvation, to lead our people to confess their sins that's the law and to absolve them in our preaching also, which is the gospel. The Glorias. The Gloria Patri, the Gloria Excelsius in our sermon, those are reminders also for us, aren't they, that in our sermons, we're working with an element of praise. It's important, though, isn't it, to recognize what praise really is. Praise is not simply saying, "Praise God, praise God, praise God." Praising God above all else is declaring the things that he has done, the mighty works of God, and that is to be central in our preaching. The creeds, which we share together in speaking in our worship service, reminds us that in our sermons, we again are not speaking as free agents. This time, we're speaking, though, horizontally, aren't we. Not only do we speak in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but as pastors, we also must be speaking that which is confessed by the entire Christian church. The pastor is also the audible spokesman for the entire congregation. Just as we confess the faith together in the creeds, so also what the pastor speaks is to be that which all believers nod to in agreement. We'll talk a little bit more, yet again, about the lessons of the day and how those affect our preaching. The fact that our preaching is often in the setting of the divine service with Holy Communion also has a great deal to say about our sermon content. As Lutherans, we recognize that the sermon is one of two, in effect, matching high points of the sermon, along with also the sacrament of the altar. That is to say, our preaching is not intended to simply be a pep rally that sends the people out into the world, but in a very real sense, it is preparation for receiving the body and blood of Christ. And finally, the service ends with a benediction, and if we think for a moment about the benediction, we have a beautiful model there of what our preaching ought to be. Maybe your pastor has told you in the past, and maybe you've counseled others, that if you ever miss virtually the entire service on a Sunday morning you oversleep and you can still get there for the benediction, come. Now, that sounds like a nicety. It sounds like the sort of thing where you're checking in to make sure you didn't miss the whole thing, and to get a chance to apologize to the pastor for being late. In fact, it is a deeply theological thought. Remember what happens when the benediction is spoken. In Numbers 6, the Lord says to Moses, "Tell Aaron to speak these words: 'Lord bless you and keep you, Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.'" And then the last verse of Numbers 26, Verse 27 says, "And I will bless them." What God says there is that when Aaron speaks these words of blessing, they are blessed. The congregation is blessed when those words are spoken. In other words, the very peace of God, the shalom, the reestablished situation of benefit and balance that comes when God and man are reconciled by the forgiveness of sins, is actually given in the speaking of those words. It's true. If someone can only come to the service for the benediction alone, he really has received the full blessing of God, the full peace of reconciliation with God that Jesus earned on the cross. Now, if we can accomplish that in the speaking of the benediction, let us be sure that our preaching does the very same thing. Let us be sure, for example, that we don't just talk about the gospel and talk about the things Jesus did in his salvific work or talk about how these things Jesus did benefit others. Our preaching should also speak directly to our hearers and say, "In Christ you have eternal life. By Jesus' death and resurrection, you have forgiveness of all of your sins." And God would the Amen to that and say, "When those words are spoken, you have precisely what was just addressed to you." That's a far cry from preaching that just describes things that we are to do or just describes things that God has done in an academic and distant sort of sense. All of these are things that come to us as models from the liturgical setting in which the word itself is going to be preached. Finally, let's talk a little bit about the particulars of a given Sunday in that liturgical setting. Think, for example, about Transfiguration Sunday. If you have a copy of Lutheran Worship handy, you might turn with me to Page 30 in the front of the hymnal and see the other propers of the day that are listed there. Remember we talked just a little while ago about how the lessons of the day the gospel, the epistle, and the Old Testament lesson are tied together thematically. We notice here on the bottom of Page 30 and then onto Page 31 that other propers of the day likewise are tied together in that way. For example, the introit of the day. The introit bottom of Page 30 in the case of Transfiguration is that cutting usually from the psalms which expresses the single theme of the day. Here's the way it begins for Transfiguration Sunday: "Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy." We remember what happened on Transfiguration day, don't we. Jesus took Peter and James and John up the mountain, as described in the gospel lesson of the day, and there they saw Jesus in his glory revealed before them. The introit reminds us of that very same thought. It pictures it poetically and shapes, before the lessons are even read, the way the theme of the Sunday will unfold. The collect of the day, a brief prayer that also expresses a theme for the day, on Page 31 in Lutheran Worship for Transfiguration Sunday, reads this way, to begin: "O God, in the glorious transfiguration of your only begotten son, you once confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the ancient fathers, and in the voice that came from the bright cloud, you wondrously foreshadowed our adoption by grace." In the collect of the day, we ask God to bless us with some of the blessings that are expressed or implied in the other worship elements, in the particularly the lessons of the day, again highlighted by the gospel. The gradual for a Sunday is actually expressing the theme for a season. The Sunday of Transfiguration is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, and so if you notice on Page 31, the gradual is the same for this Sunday as for the previous Sunday, back on Page 30 and so on. "Praise the Lord all you nations. Extol him all you peoples. For great is his love toward us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come into his courts." The season of Epiphany has been revealing Christ as the one anointed by God to come into the world as the savior, the one to whom all the world should bring gifts as, for example, the wise men did at the very beginning of the Epiphany season. Here, on the final Sunday of Epiphany, when we see Christ's glory revealed in the Transfiguration, we certainly have reason to praise the Lord, to extol him all nations, all peoples." Now, as you're preparing to work through your text for this Sunday and let's say, as you suggested, that we're going to work with the gospel of the day obviously you want to look at the gospel, and you're going to look at it very carefully. We'll talk about that some more. But Step 2, to look at the liturgical context of the day, would also call upon you to read through the introit, the collect, the gradual, and then each of the lessons. Remember this: Your hearers will hear the introit and then the collect, then the gradual, before they hear your gospel reading, and so these other worship elements will be part of the context in which they will later hear your sermon. And so it's very helpful to consider how these different elements are united by common themes, anticipate the way that will form the expectations for your hearers as they get ready to hear your sermon, and also, anticipate any questions that might arise in their minds as they hear these elements used and spoken, so that in your sermon, you can address and answer some of those questions. All of this is really a very significant part of the preparation now to do the exegetical work on the text you've chosen, the gospel lesson for the day.