Preacher: Rev. Andrea Summers
Context: ALIVE Wesleyan Church
Title: “Broken Halos: Week 1”
External link: https://youtu.be/XwnJ965mkng
The best preachers utilize their sermons to help the congregation engage their life with God in fresh ways. Part of this involves identifying, deconstructing, and reimagining familiar practices in a way that helps our churches and communities find root in the ongoing life of God.
So, when we saw Andrea Summers’ sermon on Sabbath, we were freshly impressed with the power of a Sunday morning service in reframing and re-engaging a practice many are familiar with, but most ignore. Below are a few key elements that made Summers’ sermon excellent.
Personal identification with the message “Sabbath has not even been on the back burner; it’s not even on the stove. It’s in a Tupperware container.”
Instead of using herself as a positive example of how to practice Sabbath, Summers leads with the disarming confession that her own life is in need of reform when it comes to accepting God’s invitation toward rest. The best preachers are able to identify with their message—not just as victors who demonstrate post-transformation proficiency, but as fellow travelers who are similarly wounded and healed by the Gospel’s implications.
Acknowledgement of resistance “Some of you might say, ‘I’m barely here this morning.’ Thank you. God might just have something for you here.”
Summers exegetes Scripture well in this sermon; but she also exegetes the culture she is a part of. First, she acknowledges (as seen in the quote above) that one part of Sabbath-keeping—gathering in community—can be incredibly hard when we feel overworked and overtired.
Following this, she acknowledges that the posture of Sabbath chafes against our cultural values. “We’re trading gluttony for greed,” Summers says of Black Friday. “That’s how we get the Christmas season started. Black Friday might just be a symptom of a culture that’s never quite content.”
She then pivots toward a depiction of our tendency to avoid the hard choice of Sabbath by allowing our bodies to slow us down. “Have you ever secretly wished you would get just sick enough,” Summers asks, “that you would have a legit excuse to stay home or not go to class?”
In every example given, Summers adds texture to the notion that parts of the Christian life—including Sabbath—require us to do things that fulfill needs we know we have, but that require more intentionality than our lives tend to drift us toward. The best preachers accurately diagnose the human condition, so that when they provide the Gospel, it sinks in to the congregation as truly good news.
Waling with the congregation: “Not this, not this, but THAT.” “Is the answer the weekend? Maybe vacation?”
Summers offers up pictures of Sabbath that the congregation may have in their mind, but then explains how even these things (good though they are) do not express God’s fullest intention with Sabbath. The best preachers find ways to identify common misconceptions about specific passages of Scripture, then gently nudge their congregation out of these errors of interpretation. If done properly, this exercise shows the congregation how to read and interpret the Bible, while also lifting them into more life-giving ways of expressing their faith in practices that nourish their souls and their communities.
This technique can also be used in vignettes with a refrain in between (for example: “You’re at a family gathering and one of your parents has just disciplined your child in a way you don’t agree with; should you be silent? Is that what God meant when he said, ‘Honor your father and mother?’ Your parents are pressuring you not to move away from them, and are reminding you of all they’ve done to invest in you over the years. Should you stay? Is that what God meant when he said, ‘Honor your father and mother?’)
Turning the Chicken into a Bouillon Cube—“Stop. Pray. Play.” Religious language means very little unless it’s connected with real human experience. It’s quite possible that many people in the congregation either have no idea how to practice a Sabbath, or a wrong idea about the biblical picture of Sabbath. Summers—like many of the best preachers—translates a religious term into purely human terms, helping define (or redefine) the purpose of Sabbath in Christian community. This distills a big concept (Sabbath) down to its essence, and helps the congregation know how they can step into Sabbath after they leave the church parking lot.
To Try this Sunday:
- Start with the essence: what are you really trying to say? If you were to explain it to a friend who doesn’t know the Christian terms you’ll use, how would you express it? If we try defining our content in human terms (outside of the religious language we all have come to use as insulation against it), we’ll be more specific and come across more clearly. Example: Instead of talking about “sin in the world,” talk about “betrayal, secrecy, blindness that keeps us from seeing our neighbor as a person worthy of love.”
- Listen First: Take time this week to listen for longings and losses within your congregation. What’s keeping them up at night? What do they worry about in the deepest parts of themselves? What’s giving them life, freedom, joy, and contentment? If we know these things, we’ll better be able to anticipate resistance and know how the Gospel can be “Good News.”
- Identify Almost-Obedience: What often sidelines Christians from obedience to God’s call is almost-obedience—doing something close to what God hopes for, but not all the way. As you think of what obedience looks like in response to God’s word for your context, imagine what almost obedience would look like—that’s often where faithful people are. If we meet them there with courage and compassion, we’ll find The Holy Spirit working in them, drawing them toward full obedience.
© 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.