May 15, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
I‘ve been blessed to attend the 23rd Annual Festival of Homiletics in Denver this week, and to be a part of a community of preachers who care deeply about this calling to proclaim the Gospel. Something like 1,700 preachers from many different Christian denominations all over America and Canada have gathered to hear theologians, professors, writers, musicians and pastors wrestle with the task of delivering God’s Words of Law and Gospel, prophetic message and promise to the people we serve in our diverse communities. “Community” includes the members of our churches as well as those on the outside, those unaffiliated with a religious community, those of other churches, those of other faiths, and even those who doubt the existence of God or even actively deny it.This week I have heard some of the “big names” in progressive Christian circles taking up the topic of telling the story of God’s love for the world through the art of storytelling, telling our own tales with vulnerability and humility, creating a narrative flow of God’s story in the life of the congregation, and meeting others in the midst of their stories and honoring their perspective.
There have been so many good sermons, lectures and workshops that it would be difficult (and probably more than you’d care to read) to list all my thoughts and notes. But here are a couple of the highlights of the Festival for me.
Nadia welcomed us all to her home city in the first sermon on opening night. In her lecture the following day, my big takeaway was the need for a preacher to be vulnerable, to be willing to share from one’s own life, struggles, and scars. Yet never to overshare by baring one’s wounds. If you can tell an example from your life, and others can hear and apply the story to their own situations you have succeeded, but it should never simply be a spectacle of the preachers themselves.
Brian’s preaching and teaching at this event centered on a new idea that counters the common refrain of the “mainline church in decline.” Earlier today I heard him speak about changing our perspective to the “pregnancy of the church,” learning to look forward to the new things that God is doing in the church and the world, to seek to be a part of God’s mission for abundant life and the sharing of the Gospel promises. This change in approach requires energy, expectation and joy, just as pregnancy requires of the parents-to-be.
Adam presented one of the most practical and helpful lectures of the whole Festival. He discussed the need for coherent sermons and sermon series that address the Biblical story and teaching, the needs of the hearers, and the flow and types of sermons that address what God is up to in our churches, lives and wider communities.
Rolf led two workshops on the Narrative Lectionary, a five-year-old project and tool to try to give congregations a way to grow in Biblical literacy and understanding of the narrative arc of the Bible as a whole. We have been using the Narrative Lectionary this past year at St. Mark Lutheran, and the results have been wonderful. People have developed a better sense for the history of God at work with the Chosen People, through the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and into the life of Christ and the beginnings of the church. Not only that, but the inclusion of Christian education for all ages around the same texts for preaching has deepened understanding and the multiple layers of meaning in the Biblical literature.
There have been many other wonderful speakers and lectures, including giants like Walter Bruggemann, Will Willimon, Craig Barnes, Anna Carter Florence, David Lose and Bishop Michael Curry. As wonderful as it is to listen to these thinkers and their ideas–it is perhaps even more amazing to imagine the impact that this Festival will have on the world when 1,700 preachers return to their congregations and communities refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated to try out these spiritual and homiletical gems. I’m excited for what the Spirit will do with us next.