Preacher: Alex Sicilia
Title: Take My Life
Location: College Wesleyan Church
Date: May 19, 2019
Pastor Alex demonstrates incredible facility with cross-cultural preaching in this sermon. English is not his first language, but he uses it to richly describe culturally-specific barriers that affect Christians in Mexico, then pivots to discuss distractions that Christians in Marion, Indiana often face.
The language he uses—paired with his obvious listening to those from Mexico and from Marion—emphasizes his capacity to listen to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to his care. Great preachers do more than spin well-crafted phrases: they faithfully listen to the things that keep their people up at night.
Effective use of shared memory
Every sermon emerges from a context (the preacher’s experiences, physical context, and developmental influences) and is delivered to a context (the listeners’ own lives, the shared memory/needs of the community, other preachers who have formed a congregation before your arrival). Pastor Alex acknowledges this by bringing greetings from his church—Senda De Vida—in Mexico City, and describing their partnership between College Wesleyan. During the first several minutes of the sermon, Sicilia describes the methods of discipleship both churches have collaborated on—recalling and formalizing shared memory between these two congregations. This kind of connection overcomes some of the disengagement that can accompany a guest preacher’s presence in the pulpit, and helps the congregation know their impact on the preacher’s life and formation.
Dynamic use of physical space
The best sermons are incarnated; their delivery works its way through the person of the preacher, including their use of their body in delivery. Throughout this sermon, Pastor Alex uses the platform as a physical representation of the Good News they proclaim. Starting on the left side of the stage (depicting curiosity about Jesus) and moving toward the right side of the stage (as he describes increasingly rich stages of relationship with Christ: involvement, commitment, and devotion). After preaching about devotion as the final developmental stage, Pastor Alex reviews each previous stage (commitment, involvement, curiosity) by gradually walking back toward the left part of the platform as he reviews each stage. The listener, then, learns to associate their location in the discipleship pathway with Alex’s location on the platform. Rather than ambling aimlessly during his delivery, Alex shows us how preachers can use dynamic movement that harmonizes with vibrant content.
Sending toward missional living
Every time the Scriptures are proclaimed, there is another opportunity to hear God’s invitation to wholeness. The sermons that most effectively extend that invitation have implications that are richly described during the service, but fulfilled after the congregation has left the pews. Parishioners should leave the sermon still pondering: “What is God calling me to do right now?” and aligning their life to harmonize with that call.
Alex sends the congregation out with reflection, and with a well-crafted phrase of application which lingers with those in attendance: “Peter’s nets were saved somewhere, and they became safety nets.”
If approached indelicately, Pastor Alex’s message could have oversimplified people’s hesitancy in committing to Christ; instead, he demonstrates empathy toward disciples who encounter tension between good (even holy) things and God’s call. “These are good things,” Alex says, “But they were not meant to be first.”
Instead of leaving listeners in a shame-based spiral, constantly feeling “behind” in the stages of discipleship, Pastor Alex resolves this tension by examining how the call of God (though costly) is actually Good News. Hearers leave pondering the idea that no matter their level of dedication, the invitation of Jesus is the same: “Come, follow me. Do you love me more than these?”
To Practice this Week:
- Longings and Losses: Write out some of the longings and losses some of your people have articulated to you recently. (Note: if the longings and losses you recall aren’t things that would keep you up at night, think longer. If you don’t have any that deep, maybe jot down a reflection on that. It may be either because you haven’t been listening often enough or deeply enough, or people don’t trust you with pain enough to disclose hard things).
- Exegete Culturally: Whether you’re new to your preaching context or you’ve been there for a while, do some digging on some of the cultural identity around that area. Who has historically been overlooked near your preaching context? What voices have prevailed over others? What would “Good News” look like for those the church has overlooked? What might God–and the original speaker of the text–say to your context?
- Imagine Your Emotion: As you read, study, write, and practice your sermon delivery, imagine how your emotion might harmonize with the message of the text. Don’t manufacture emotions; just sit with the text during your study and jot down how you feel in reading it. Maybe have another congregant do the same, and compare notes.
- Thank Someone: Preachers always carry their formative influences into the pulpit with them. As you think of your own context’s “collective memory,” jot down the name of someone in your church who has encouraged you toward living a holier, more just life. Write them a brief thank-you note.
2019, Ethan Linder
Ethan Linder is the Pastor of Hospitality, Collegians, and Young Adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and the Editor of The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development writing staff.