Monday, July 28, 2008

Perfect theology

Pleased to report hearing two sermons this week where the preacher stuck to the text like a train to the tracks!

During one service we sung this hymn. Its well known, I have sung it many times and not thought too much about it. But this time I noticed how perfect and complete its theology is ...

Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour,
first-begotten from the dead,
You alone, our strong defender,
liftest up your people's head.
Jesu, true and living bread.

Here our humblest homage pay we,
here in loving reverence bow;
here for faith's discernment pray we,
lest we fail to know you now.
you art here, we ask not how.

Though the lowliest form does veil you
as of old in Bethlehem,
here as there your angels hail you,
Branch and Flower of Jesse's Stem.
we in worship join with them.

Paschal Lamb, your offering, finished
once for all when you were slain,
in its fulness undiminished
shall for evermore remain,
cleansing souls from every stain.

Life-imparting heavenly Manna,
stricken Rock with streaming side,
heaven and earth with loud hosanna
worship thee, the Lamb who died,
risen, ascended, glorified.

G. H. Bourne (1840-1925)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A sermon is a train not a rocket

Recently I heard a sermon 'somewhere' which bemused me. It attended to the gospel text, misinterpreted its imagery, neglected a significant aspect of its message, and provided a fine message about trusting God whatever circumstances may befall us.

The text of Scripture was a launching pad for the sermon, which, like the biggest of rockets, hovered near the pad for the first few seconds after blast off, and then took off into outer space. Such rockets are spectacular, inspiring, and turn our eyes heavenwards. All good stuff, as it was on this occasion. But is that what Scripture's purpose is? Are we being fully and properly informed by Scripture when it is made a launching pad? And, is there not a grave danger that the rocket, once launched, might fizzle out and head away from heaven?

Better, is it not, to think of the sermon as the more humble, prosaic train. The text is the rails, and the train can only go somewhere useful for its passengers if the train stays on the rails at all times.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Arcane matters of canon law and authorised worship

In a recent post on Anglican Down Under I provide a copy of a long response I have made to an open letter circulated by Archdeacon Glynn Cardy of the Diocese of Auckland. The issue giving rise to this exchange is the status of services of blessing for same sex partnerships (and/or civil unions). Such services are happening in the Western Anglican world, including New Zealand, but mostly 'under the radar', and sometimes in an 'informal' matter. So not much canonical scrutiny has applied to them.

The relevant point to this blogsite is that it can be easy to overlook the fact that licensed ministers - lay and ordained - have an obligation to lead services of worship which are 'authorised' by the church. The reasons for this include (a) following St Paul's injunction to conduct worship with 'decency and order', and (b) ensuring that the content of our worship is theologically sound, giving expression to the doctrine of our church (as agreed and hammered out over centuries) rather than to the opinions and speculations of the worship leader.

The simplest way of fulfilling this obligation is to leader services according to the prayer book (noting how much wording in these services is drawn directly from Scripture itself)! But it is also possible to fulfil this obligation through a more flexible order of service (which the prayer book provides for) so long as the content of such services conforms to the doctrine of our church (one way to help this occur is to include prayers drawn from the prayer book into our mix of songs and hymns and testimonies; another way is to ensure that Scripture is actually read in the service)!

Briefly, part of my dispute with Archdeacon Cardy is that our rules or 'canonical law' lays down the law rather than 'guidelines'. If we had guidelines then anything could happen in our which, and no formal accountability would exist between the bishop and his/her licensed ministers. But we do not have guidelines, we have rules. Yet the rules are not for their own sake: they are to ensure that our worship is truth-full.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Some notes on preaching ... with a sample review at end

(From a recent training session at Brightwater)

Preaching for Transformation
POMT 4 July 2008

What is the ‘big picture’ of what we are seeking to accomplish through preaching?
Speak God’s truth

Nurture God’s people

Build God’s church

Enable Christian maturity (Colossians 1:28)

Strength, en-courage God’s servants in the world

Personal, ecclesial, world (missional) dimensions to preaching

Transform people’s lives
Change the world

Transform ourselves?

How big is our vision for preaching?

Reflection before each sermon and before each ‘year of preaching’ plan:
- what is the immediate outcome of this sermon,
- what is the ultimate outcome of all sermons in this parish?

Thesis: the church is shrinking in numbers relative to a growing population and in influence relative to rampant secularism and materialism …
turning the tide is not only about ‘growing the church’ (internal church transformation) it is about evangelism (engaging the world with the gospel) …
to engage the world with the gospel requires a mission force (the laity) who regularly hear preaching which engages the world with the gospel …

Examples: Jesus, Paul, John Chrysostom, Augustine, the Dominicans and Franciscans, Luther, Calvin, Wesleys and Whitefield, Martin Luther King

Observation: a lot of preaching is focused on internal church transformation. This is good, but it is insufficient!

Preaching can change the world
Why do Muslim preachers have the impact they have on the 21st century?

What does our preaching consist of?



Texts which transform (does the text first transform us?)

Preach for Transformation – Going Beyond Information

Personal Growth

Corporate maturity

Communion in the body of Christ with God

God’s Kingdom come

Preaching for Transformation – things to do, things to avoid
Are our sermons ‘isolated’ or ‘connected’ to the service and to the wider life of our parish?

The reason for ‘Theme, Sentence, Collect’
Connecting through Creed, Intercessions, The Peace, Songs, Eucharistic Prayer, Dismissal

Are we undermining our own sermons?


Preparing sermons
Who (rehearsal) (who needs to know what by when: readings, data, intercessions, songs)

Which readings? Advantage of the lectionary is …

What is the one sentence goal and one sentence summary of my sermon?

What is the connection the sermon makes to the world in which its hearers live?

Review of sermons

What do we look for in a review?

‘Appreciative inquiry’

Constructive criticism and best practice de-construction

Sample Review: see separate sheet

Where to from here?
The next sermon

Five years from now

Twenty-five years from now

I will be a successful preacher when

People tell me I have preached well

People become Christians

Signs and wonders follow

Newspapers report what I say

The bishop investigates me and tests my content for heresy

What is the goal of preaching?
What is the goal of my next sermon? (in one sentence)

Preaching for Transformation

In the end ‘preaching for transformation’ is much more than how we open up the text, the style of our preaching, and whether or not we undermine our sermons by preaching for too long.

Preaching for transformation begins with the transformation of the preacher.

If God through reading Scripture can change me, he can transform anyone.

If I am impervious to the working of God through Scripture, why should I expect any outcome to my preaching than the impartation of information?

Ephesians 4:1-16 – the role of preaching, teaching, evangelizing, apostolic doctrinal foundation laying in the growth, development, maturing, and unity of the church.

Colossians 1:28: ‘Christ we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.’

Sample Review

The preacher was:

Time, date, place of sermon:

Announced theme:


Main reading for the sermon:

What I liked about this sermon:



Start time: Finish time: Length:

How did the length of the sermon ‘feel’? Too long Just right Too short





Points which struck me:

How do I think a non-Christian would have understood this sermon?

This is my one sentence summary of the message conveyed:

Preacher responds with, This is my one sentence summary of the message I conveyed:

Final comments:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Something to read before Lambeth

Our preaching and worship leading is always in a particular context - the church, the Anglican church in our case. From time to time its good to renew acquaintanceship with our history, our present, and our future. If you have a few spare moments, read this 12 page lecture by Gregory Cameron, Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.