This message was presented at Asbury Theological Seminary in 2010. Last week Dr. Stephen Elliott presented a challenge discussing the danger of ministry without power or preaching without the Spirit’s enabling of our work. This week we want to present a sermon by an empowered preacher whose testimony of the Spirit’s work is well known in our denomination. As always, here are a few things we want to highlight in the preacher.
1. Dr. Lyon consistently connects the world’s needs with the Spirit’s power. In this sermon it is the “breath of God” that is the theme from scripture that Dr. Lyon uses to address the work of the Holy Spirit as the empowering of ministry. This is a theological point that needs pressed for preaching. Much of our preaching could be summarized in this way: “Try harder.” Without a theological view of the Spirit’s work, many of our sermonic applications became works righteousness.
2. Dr. Lyon demonstrates spirit empowerment through testimony. When a General Superintendent of a denomination and a founder of an organization like World Hope speaks, the tendency is to elevate the person as a “great leader.” Dr. Lyon certainly is a great leader. Yet the emphasis in her preaching is not on her skills, knowledge, training, or quick thinking. The emphasis is consistently on the testimony of God’s rupturing work in her life. She and her partners are portrayed as small and insignificant. God is presented as active, unpredictable, and the author of the testimony she never could have designed.
3. Dr. Lyon combines statistics with stories. Dr. Lyon’s preaching often holds social justice as a primary theme. However, her preaching does not fall into the trap of sharing depressing statistics that distance us from the problem rather than connecting us. The shock of statistics is consistently alternated with the warm connection of personal stories that put a face on statistics.
4. Dr. Lyon ends with a question. So many sermons end with statements or commands. This gives sermons a sense of finality even completion. But Fred Craddock in his book As One Without Authority and many others since has suggested that perhaps we don’t want the sermon to be wiped off with the shake of the ministers hand. We want it to linger, unsettle, and prompt people throughout the week. Listen for Dr. Lyon’s powerful use of the question at the end of the sermon. And notice that the question once again presses the connection between the world’s needs and God’s empowerment.
For further thought:
1. How might you place yourself in situations and experiences that would provide more meaningful testimony to God’s work in the world?
2. What regular practices help you maintain an attitude of dependance on the spirit while you prepare and preach?
Next week: we will post an article by on of our Wesleyan Seminary’s professors, John Drury, on the impossibility of preaching.