BIO: Since several of you have made the request and a Palm Sunday sermon was needed, Lenny Luchetti has submitted one of his sermons. Lenny serves as the Director of Wesleyansermons.com and Assistant Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary. After 15 years of ministry, Lenny has sensed a new vocation to invest in those who are investing in local churches. He asked his friend and colleague, Dave Ward, to listen to the sermon and “grill him” with some questions. Dave has served as a pastor and has, as an itinerant speaker, preached in various contexts around the country. Dave presently serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching for undergraduate students at Indiana Wesleyan University. Here is their conversation.
Dave: Some pastors claim that preaching for the special days of the church is the most difficult task they have. After five years of preaching on Palm Sunday, it is easy to feel as though you have run out of ideas. In your work as a pastor, how did you keep sermons for holy days and for holidays fresh and invigorating?
Lenny: Right, how many times can we possibly preach a sermon on Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem and still keep it fresh? One of the ways that I try to tell the old familiar story in new unfamiliar ways is to come at the same old Palm Sunday texts with a humble, listening posture as I invite God to surprise me with realities I’ve not seen before in the text. In addition to a listening, open posture to God through the text, I prayerfully consider how the text addresses the most prevalent dreams and doubts, hopes and hurts of the people to whom I preach. I constantly wrestle with the question, how can the sermon build a bridge from the claim of the biblical text to the congregational context? Simply put, listening for a fresh word from God through the text and listening beyond words to the needs of the people I serve allows those old familiar texts to come alive with freshness.
Dave: My favorite moment in your sermon came when your pace, pitch, and volume lifted and your passion came through with this statement: “If we can just hang in there past the Good Friday death of our expectations and just wait three days, three months, ten years, fifteen years we can get to see him exceeding our expectations. If we can just make it past Good Friday.” How did you come up with this phrase “hang in there past the Good Friday of our expectations?” Was this a planned phrase, an improvised one? And did you know in advance this would be a place where you “caught on fire” or was that an act of the moment as well?
Lenny: I intentionally tried to locate our story within the story of Christ’s passion, which we call “Holy Week.” As I got into the study of the text, particularly the Jewish expectations of the Messiah, I couldn’t help but see myself and our church. Most, if not all, of us have some expectations of God that he is not intending to meet. The phrase, “hang in there past the Good Friday death of our expectations” came as I contemplated people in our church whose misguided expectations of God became debilitating. So the phrase was certainly planned but the “fire” probably resulted from looking into the eyes of people whose faith was hanging by a thread because of their disappointment with the God who was not meeting their expectations.
Dave: One of the strengths of this sermon is its clarity and memorability. Tom Long emphasizes the importance of these two sermon characteristics in his The Witness of Preaching?
Lenny: I wish I got my hands on The Witness of Preaching much sooner than I did. I’m afraid too many of my sermons led people on wilderness wanderings instead of to the promised land of sermonic clarity. For this sermon I was clear.
Dave: Many preachers share that preaching is both agony and ecstasy, an anxious burden and a high privilege. In this sermon you seemed to demonstrate both the personal struggle with preaching and the enjoyment of it. What helped you enjoy this preaching moment so that it wasn’t pure agony and angst?
Lenny: I remember being very excited to preach this message because I felt it had the potential to “set captives free” from our propensity to make God a slave to our expectations. In order for us to experience liberation through this message we had to first experience a sort of death. So, in that sense perhaps the sermon was first agony (death) before it was ecstasy (resurrection/liberation).
Dave: The benefit of a site like this is we can learn not only from what other Wesleyan preachers do well, but what they might change if they had a chance. If you had to do a couple things differently with this sermon, what would those things be?
Lenny: As I listened to it again, I realized there was a slow and steady building toward a climactic resolution. This was intentional, but I probably could have done more to elicit an “itch,” or tension, in listeners in the first half of the sermon so that the “scratch” of good news might have been received with even greater joy. To this end, I could have captured more real life stories of people who experienced the “Good Friday death of their expectations” and either bailed on God or hung onto him.