BIO: Jo Anne Lyon was elected as the first female General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church at the June 2008 General Conference. Lyon was ordained as a minister in the Wesleyan Church in 1996, the same year that she founded World Hope International, an organization dedicated to alleviating suffering and injustice through education, enterprise, and community health.
Follow Dr. Lyon on Twitter.
Lenny: All preachers have their own criteria for what constitutes a good sermon. In your estimation, whether you are preaching or listening to a sermon, what makes a good sermon “good”?
Dr. Lyon: Light and insight from the Biblical text and how I can live it out. Will the world and the people around me be better because I am being transformed by this message?
Lenny: The Gospel contains both bad news and good news. The bad news is that sin has caused the human race and the entire cosmos to experience the brokenness you describe in your sermon. The good news is that there is a “river of life” named Jesus who has the power to heal this broken world, as you point out. You seem to intentionally and honestly highlight the bad news of brokenness and yet point to the hopeful good news of healing in Christ. What happens when the preacher ignores either good news or bad news in the sermon and tells a lopsided Gospel?
Dr. Lyon: Then the power of the Gospel is not complete. If we only share the good news, then evil is ignored. If we only share the bad news, then hope is unknown.
Lenny: You preached this sermon in at the Taylor University chapel in Indiana. Is there anything you said or did in the sermon that was born out of your sensitivity to the young adult academic context within which you preached?
Dr. Lyon: I knew this audience was aware of social justice issues. I also wanted to talk about these issues in the context of the transforming power of Christ. However, God works through His people. Healing of brokenness comes because God’s people are willing to be moved beyond the call of comfort and materialism, and exercise their gifts and resources to be obedient to the call of God.
Lenny: In this sermon, you used various stories of real people who are living in some of the worse conditions imaginable. Why do you use these stories and do you have some personal rules that govern your use of stories?
Dr. Lyon: First of all I want people to realize how 2/3 of the people in the world live. These folks are the heroes. I want people in the West to respect the poor in all aspects. Many times we believe, subconsciously, that if one is poor there is a lack of intelligence or spirituality. That myth must be “busted.” As to personal rules for storytelling- I want Jesus and the person in the story to be lifted up!
Lenny: One of the most neglected considerations of sermon preparation and yet one of the most important is, how do you structure the parts of the sermon in a way that most compellingly moves people to action? How did you determine the structure, or flow, of this particular sermon?
Dr. Lyon: Well first of all it must flow with the scripture and how the biblical writer intended. I always find it very important to look at the cultural and historical context of the scriptural text. Then, I compare it to this century. How is God speaking to us today through this text? What are the similar elements. This particular Psalm has its own flow. Sometimes I ask the question, if this was the only page from scripture a person was able to read – how would this engage the whole gospel? Then I consider the action question, what am I to do with what I just heard? Then, of course, I translate this to the hearers by exploring, what can and should they do with what they have heard?
Lenny: How do your Wesleyan theological convictions shape your preaching?
Dr. Lyon: I am totally shaped by these convictions because I believe them so strongly. The power of the Holy Spirit to transform people, communities, culture, and the world in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven, this is the Wesleyan conviction that shapes my preaching.