I am expected to engage with this week’s assigned readings and more specifically reflect on the work of scripture, in its interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times. What an interesting assignment! As I try to put together my thoughts in five pages or less I recalled the discussion I had with a friend of mine in Caculama Municipality, Malanje Province, Angola on Sunday 13 January 2019 on the question of whether we are hearing more sermons or stories.
People living in current times are demanding preachers with power and passion, sensitive to the cultural context in which the performance of biblical testimony takes place. It is clear that the preacher has to have a moral authority and merits the trust of the hearers. And preaching, valid preaching, must be faithful to the biblical vision for justice, which arises from both our exposure to culture and our cloistered contact with the divine.
The sermon addresses and narrates God’s liberating response to the cries of the oppressed: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8). In fact, right at the start of his ministry Jesus set out his mission statement: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. This remains an inspiration for many social enterprise people today (Luke 4:18). Jesus didn’t need to invent a mission statement; he finds one ready-made in the Old Testament. The promise of good times no longer lay in the future; it was being fulfilled in the present – ‘today’ – and in his person. He is the Lord’s Servant of whom the book of Isaiah speaks. He is the one anointed by the Spirit, the longed-for Messiah. So echoing Isaiah, he promises good things to four groups of people: Good News to the Poor, Recovery of the Sight to the Blind, Freedom for the Oppressed and Relevance to those living Today. Surely, and I believe, this is the work of scripture in its interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times, which the preacher needs to articulate.
I am known as the border man because I was born on the border between Kwanza Sul and Huambo Provinces in Angola (Southern Africa) – an omen perhaps, in a society where class and the place of birth makes an important difference, that I would be a builder of bridges between people and communities. So, the identity of the preacher also comes to play when delivering the sermon. This was the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the servant of Yahweh, the itinerant preacher in Galilee who was then accused by the Jewish authorities, before the Roman procurator, of being political and a social agitator due to the egalitarian movement among the masses He inspired.
The sermon and the preaching of someone who understands the role of scripture, in it’s interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times, has to be prophetic and characterized by two elements: an overwhelming sense of an encounter with God and a message of moral and political judgement that the prophet feels divinely compelled to proclaim, particularly to those in political authority.
In my conversation with that friend of mine in Caculama we reflected on the fact that many pastors in our days tell stories, any stories, as long as the stories capture attention, seem relevant and take up sermon time. Perhaps the reason is that these pastors/preachers do not want to do the nitty gritty pastoral work of getting into a specific text embedded in a storied world of Israel and Church (and perhaps need more training and mentorship to enhance skill and confidence in exegesis).
What do we mean? Because Jesus told stories this is not a license for preachers to tell only stories and not “preach the word.” Any first year student knows that Jesus’s parables are riddled with biblical allusions, if not outright biblical motifs. That is, Jesus’s stories were told within a culture aware of and living in Israel’s ongoing story. Likewise, preachers today can elicit the biblical text or reference underlying modern stories, linking them back to the biblical moral of the original parable or passage (such as the theme of Moses in the film La Amistad).
I agree that preachers have to preach the Story of the Kingdom as it finds fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. That story is anchored in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Telling stories outside of that big story may be pleasing in some communities, but will never be edifying to the church. Preachers must grapple with this gift called Scripture and preach it.
It is interesting to note that Jerome Clayton Ross suggests, and I do agree, that the Bible must be read as a collection of communications between different and diverse parties; it must be contextualized. By locating the Bible, says Ross, we are able to attribute it to somebodies.
The work of scripture, in it’s interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times has to include the ascertaining of when, where, and by whom that text was written, who spoke the text? To whom was it written? For whom was it spoken? When was it written? Where was it spoken? Where was it written? What is it addressing? How is it presented? Why is it presented?
For the church to be meaningful and relevant topeople living in current times will have to raise its prophetic voice; the Ministers of the Gospel must comfort the afflicted, but they also have the prophet’s duty to afflict the comfortable. The sermons and the preachers will have to challenge the status quo, because the primary purpose of biblical prophecy is to effect social and political change in a society. Prophets have never been called to conserve social orders that have stratified inequities of power and privilege and wealth; prophets have always been called to change them so all can have access to the fullest fruits of life(John 10:10b).
May the Lord Jesus grant me with courage to raise my prophetic voice in Africa and in Angola in particular, to preach the word in such a way that liberates the oppressed and the voiceless people.
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/10/28/telling-stories-is-not-preaching/accessed on 20 February, 2019 at 6:40 PM