A Guest Post by Ben Bartosik
This is the seventh in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon a sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday entitled “An Unlikely Candidate for Sermonic Success” (pp. 133-141). The Scriptural texts for the sermon were Acts 2:1-41 and Exodus 19:1-9, 16-19.
“It shouldn’t have worked.”
With these words, Rob launches into his sermon reflecting on Peter’s Pentecost address to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem. What follows is a playful and borderline irreverent exploration of the first Christian sermon and the way it broke every homiletical rule in the book, yet inspired thousands. It’s a thought provoking message, probing at the medium itself and tying Pentecost to the overall narrative of redemption. You should read it.
And yet I can’t shake that first line.
For someone like myself who wonders if preaching still has a place today, it digs in and begs the question: can any sermon work anymore?
I considered doing the math. Fifty-two Sundays a year spread out over two millennia, multiply that by however many preachers there have been since Peter gave his first kick at the preaching can – factor in Sunday evening services – we must be well into the billions of sermons by now. To be fair, I’m lousy at math. It’s why I’m in seminary.
But every Sunday, all over the world, words are being spoken. Is anyone still listening?
I mean, I know some people are listening. They might even be taking notes; but is it doing anything? Are these people being invited into the radically subversive, alternative way of Jesus? Or are we just filling a timeslot?
Perhaps part of the problem with preaching today is that it’s become expected. Each week the crowd gathers and a preacher has to have something to say even when they have nothing to say. Others have become a little too comfortable with their weekly platform, saying something whether or not it needs to be said.
Under Christendom the church moved preaching to the centre and I can’t help but feel that’s where we went wrong. Sermons have become patterned and predictable, maintaining proper time limits and utilizing the correct amount of anecdotes. What Rob’s sermon gets at, and what Peter’s sermon demonstrates, is that preaching belongs on the edge. The Christian movement begins with a ragtag group of nobodies following an executed heretic. It’s made up of fisherman and tax collectors and the sick and the poor; people on the margins of society. The whole thing really shouldn’t have worked.
Yet this is the mysterious beauty of the Gospel. It takes root in the most unlikely of places, thriving under conditions that are neither attractive nor expected. In this sermon, Rob reminds us that the sermon does indeed still have a place, perhaps surprisingly so, even in a world that no longer seems to be listening. All that is needed are preachers with the imagination to return to the margins and let the sermon blossom where it always belonged.
Ben Bortosik is a student at Tyndale Seminary and a not-for-profit worker. You can learn more about Ben and read some of his writing at: benbartosik.com.