Preacher: Heather Semple is the Lead Pastor at Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake, WI.
Sermon Title: David – The Giant Killer
Sermon link: https://vimeo.com/182491895
Red Cedar, a Wesleyan congregation in Rice Lake Wisconsin, recently launched a series called “The Making of a Giant-Killer.” In this first sermon of the series, You will have to listen to the sermon itself to gain a clearer understanding of her views on “Giant-Killer Training.” It is certainly a well known phrase and concept, but shared in pastor Heather’s unique edgy style. If you feel you can agree “our giants loom” even in your own life, this sermon might be as much for you as much or more than this review.
Once you have heard the sermon, you will agree that Pastor Heather does several things that make her a uniquely gifted communicator. We will phrase what we liked about the sermon as reminders to each of us:
1) Seek to be natural, authoritative, and humble.
Have you ever caught yourself putting on a different voice when you step up to the pulpit? A very natural and easy going preaching student of mine came up to the pulpit a few weeks ago and started with “Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” with a sanctimonious nod to each section of the room and a repetition of “Amen…Amen” in a stain glass voice. It’s as if the preacher is trying to wear a jacket that doesn’t fit. It may make you feel a little more comfortable but everyone looking at you knows that something is off. Yet t it is deceptively easy to do. Heather preaches with confidence and a natural, easy presence that signals a humility couched neither in shame nor falsehood. While each of these are vital to preaching, they aren’t concepts you work at so much as someone you become. You can, perhaps, develop a more natural stage presence over time, but humble authority is something that comes from the life within. It comes from knowing that you are secure in your identity as a child of God while always remembering that you speak in Christ’s authority and not your own. Pastor Heather Semple’s presence in the pulpit is natural, authoritative, and humble. Some preachers are one, fewer are two, and the best are all three.
2) Seek to make scripture tangible, and therefore living
Anyone can tell you what Scripture says, but a preacher helps bring these words feel alive in a way that matches what they describe. Heather’s sermon from the story of David and Goliath first become tangible when she describes her own experience in visiting the Valley of Elah. You can imagine in your mind what it looks like this large valley between two cliffs. A good storyteller helps their reader (or listener) picture the scene for themselves. Heather takes it a step further and brings a stone out when she talks about the stones that David pulled from the river. As she holds it out you can almost feel its texture in your hand. To make the most startling feature of the story more concrete she shows us a 9 foot tall giant via a cardboard silhouette.The listener can see with her own eyes how tall and intimidating Goliath might have been. It is a concrete and tangible picture of how our giants loom over us now. Helping listeners see the Bible with their own eyes makes the story become more real. Help your listeners see, hear, taste, smell, and touch at the very least with their imaginations if not in actuality.
3) Preach into the realities of the listeners
It’s possible to preach a sermon that doesn’t quite seem married to your context, as if it lacks connection with parishioners. This is after all, the regular complaint of listeners. Pastor Heather avoids this in several ways. One of which is done by speaking about the life of a man in her circles whom she had gone to visit that week. This man recently landed in jail and expressed (in similar terms) that he felt he had giants he could not defeat. I should note here that she protects his name by not sharing it and by not sharing why he went to jail. You can tell that Heather knows her context; this is not a pastor who prepares only from within the four walls of her study. She knows her people and speaks into their reality. The practicing of Christian faith (whatever you do for the least of these) does not have to be separated from the writing of sermons. And the visiting of our people, even those who cannot come on Sunday, is often the best thing we can do for a sermon. Leave the study once you know the passage. Take it with you to the prison or the nursing home or the soccer field or the middle school cafeteria. Then watch the sermon unfold before you.
This week, only one of the following action steps has anything to do with “technique.” So perhaps, they will be even more helpful than our action steps sometimes are. Technique will help our preaching to be sure. There are better forms of practice, those that help our souls as well:
- Spend some time in your prayer closet, and other time comfortably alone with yourself.
We achieve humble authority not by mimicking another preacher’s style but by becoming whole and content with God and ourselves. We are not trying to just sound authoritative or appear humble. We are called to be both of these things by the grace of God. Humility and authority must be genuine in order for our preaching to be genuine. We honor God and do well for ourselves and our people by spending time with God, being filled with the spirit of power and humility before Sunday morning comes. We also do our people well if we can become comfortable in our own skin. Otherwise many of our sermon introductions will really be attempts to gain that comfort through the laughter or nodding approval of others.
- Ask yourself these questions:
- What tangible details can you pull from this week’s Scripture to help bring the Scripture more alive for people who are listening?
- Are there physical objects that would help this passage make more sense for me, the preacher? Would they help others?
- Are there any media elements that would help tell the story— a picture, a video, a timeline, a diagram?
- Practice a Matthew 25 and Romans 12 faith outside your office.
Go visit some people in your congregation. Have a meal at your home or meet them for coffee. We need to be careful not to use people for their stories. That does not honor them. If we tell their stories, we should have their permission. Knowing what your people love, despise, the things that are hard for them, and the things that give them abiding joy helps you better connect scripture’s world with their world. Knowing their lives helps us love them well in person and from the pulpit. Preaching into their reality lets them know that the Gospel matters for them no matter where they are in life. We will always do well to remember that love covers over a multitude of sermonic sins. Love your people concretely and in person. Love them even while you are preaching, and they will forgive your rambling, your mumbling, and your momentary lapses into stained glass voices.
Dave Ward with Elyse Garverick