BIO: Lynda Keefer serves as Care and Prayer Pastor of the Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church, a multi-generational and multi-ethnic church with many new believers and seekers. This growing church of 450 draws from a large geographical radius in Northeastern, PA. Lynda is part of a preaching team of three pastors. When I asked Lynda what preaching advice she would share with us, she responds, “Let the word speak to you first, and then share what you’ve heard.”
Lenny: The church you serve is extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity, spiritual maturity, age, and socio-economics. How do you think this diverse context of people shaped how you preached this particular message?
Lynda: For this particular message, focusing beyond our differences to our commonality was important. Despite our different backgrounds and experiences, we all share the same human condition – we are all sinners, saved only by the grace of God. Hopefully because of that, we can look at others with eyes of grace and see them as our brothers and our sisters. One difference that I did pay attention to was differing levels of spiritual maturity. I particularly wanted to express that whatever our level of spiritual understanding, every one of us must continually cultivate this attitude of humility, teach-ability, and gratitude before God. We never advance beyond the need to be poor in spirit. That, in a way, expresses our commonality as well.
Lenny: What resources helped you dig into biblical concepts and words like “kingdom of heaven” and “poor in Spirit”?
Lynda: I read the passage in several different translations, and looked up the other places in scripture where Jesus uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God.” I used an online resource to do a short word study on the phrase “poor in spirit.” I don’t rely very heavily on commentaries, but I did check a couple to make sure that I wasn’t off-base in the conclusions that I reached from reading and praying about the text myself. I checked a couple respectable Christian authors to see if they had written anything on the topic of what being “poor in spirit” meant.
Lenny: There were lots of creative elements running through your sermon. Your message opened with a humorous monologue spoofing the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous TV show, cheesy music included. Then, in the middle of your message you included a live drama from the perspective of the women who anointed Jesus feet with her tears and perfume. How do you think these creative touches fostered peoples’ receptivity to the message you preached?
Lynda: I think that the creative elements helped engage the listeners and draw them in. Using things from our culture, such as the TV show, helped the Word intersect with something familiar – something we can identify with. Using the live drama instead of simply reading the scripture passage made the Word come alive. It became something more than words on a page—it had emotion and human experience attached to it. That helped the listeners identify with the feelings and intensity behind it.
Lenny: You artfully considered “poor in spirit” as a contrast between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman. What else did you do in the structuring of your sermon to drive home the point of the message?
Lynda: First, starting with a look at what Jesus promises those who are poor in spirit (the kingdom of heaven) helped highlight the beautiful gift we will receive when we are poor in spirit. Next, by somewhat picking apart the contrast between Simon and the woman, the differences became more poignant and telling. Then, taking those details and personalizing them helped drive home the point of the message–in other words, inserting us and our responses into the details that we uncovered. The reflection questions at the end helped by giving the listeners an opportunity to compare our responses to the responses of the characters in the biblical passage.
Lenny: I have heard your preaching before and it was passionate then, but this message was preached with a heightened passion. Why did this message strike an extreme chord of passion in you?
Lynda: I think this message struck me quite personally because I was for so long more like Simon the Pharisee than I was the woman in the passage and I didn’t even know it. It struck me that, even though Simon the Pharisee’s attitude was not quite as it should be, Jesus was still eating with him at his home. What grace God has! I am so grateful for His loving, persistent Presence in my life. I know that it wasn’t until I recognized my complete need for God and His forgiveness that I experienced His healing in my life. As the sermon was being shaped, the Spirit gave me a burning passion to express to the listeners what great things God has for each one of us when we stand before Him completely poor in spirit.
Lenny: I appreciate the way you gave people a chance to process the message with a series of prayerfully reflective questions and the sacrament of Communion. Why do you think it’s important to allow people time to process and respond to the message?
Lynda: I believe wholeheartedly that the Holy Spirit can take the Word and speak directly into each person’s heart. Giving the Spirit time to speak and giving the congregation time to listen to the Spirit’s promptings is important. Then the message has an opportunity to become personal, not just a message about someone or something in Scripture, but something with meaning and implications for each listener wherever they are and whatever their circumstances.