Friday, December 20, 2013

the WORD before the powers

A few months ago I began serving as a curate—a priest-in-training—at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas). One of my goals has been to develop as a preacher, to find my preaching voice, as it were, and to get into a rhythm of sermon preparation. While I have done a fair amount of teaching during my life, I have done very little preaching. Prior to this year, I've preached about only 1½ dozen sermons during my lifetime, including a couple as a teenager. The occasional sermon always took me an inordinate amount of time, and I avoided it. Anyway, as part of my curacy, I have begun to preach on a fairly regular basis, about once every three weeks, and after the first of the year, it will be every other week. Part of finding my voice is to get a better feel for the role that preaching plays in the formation of Christian communities and individuals. To that end, I ordered this book on preaching, which I got last week: The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching by Charles L. Campbell. I can't rightly recall where I came across it, but I have fallen in love with it. In the future, I hope to offer some summaries and reflections. But for now, just a brief summary of its central thesis. 
     In a nutshell, Campbell argues that we live in a world subject to "the principalities and powers," that is, a world held captive to a system characterized by domination, violence, and death. As the community of those who follow Jesus, the church has been called and equipped to confront the principalities and powers, to resist the domination system through nonviolent means. In short, the church is a community of nonviolent resistance. Christian preaching is itself is a form of nonviolent resistance—at least, it ought to be, according to Campbell. As a form of nonviolent resistance, Christian preaching has three principal functions: exposing the principalities and powers, envisioning an alternative way of living in the world, and nurturing a new set of practices for living in this alternative, Christian way. The following excerpt offers a nice summary of Campbell's overall argument:
There is an "integral connection between vision and practice, both of which come together as preachers seek to build up the church as a community of resistance to the principalities and powers. By exposing the powers and envisioning the new creation, preachers help the people of God see the world in new ways. By redescribing routine practices, exposing corrupt practices, and nurturing faithful practices, preachers give concrete shape to the vision of life in the new creation and help Christian congregations to begin living into the redemption that God has accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When vision and practice come together in sermons, informing and supporting each other, preaching can become one mans by which the people of God are built up into a community of resistance that embodies an alternative to the powers of death in and for the world" (Campbell, The Word, 156) .

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