Thursday, October 16, 2014

Article-Preaching: Three tips to avoid the Lutheran meat grinder

Paul tells us in Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Stick that in the Lutheran Meat Grinder and your sermon looks like this:

Paul tells us to rejoice.

But, because of our sinfulness, we fail to rejoice.
So Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins of not rejoicing.
And now, in the power of the Spirit, we can rejoice!

The author to the Hebrews encourages us: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us!” Put that through the Lutheran Meat Grinder and you get:

God want us to run with endurance.

But, because of our sinfulness, we fail to run with endurance.
So Jesus ran His race to the cross for us, to forgive our sins of not enduring.
And now, in the power of the Spirit, we can run with endurance!

No matter if the text seeks to comfort, challenge, forgive, call to repentance, inspire action, or invite to prayer, you can make it say the same orthodox thing over and over again, turning any sermon into Law, then Gospel, then—if you dare—a little Sanctification at the end.

So how do you remain orthodox, but capture more of the variety expressed in the biblical text itself?
Think Pragmatics- Pragmatics is the study of what a communication does. Is Paul trying to comfort or encourage? Is Jesus calling to trust or life change? Should your people think differently, act differently, or pray differently after this sermon? The Lutheran Meat Grinder always sounds the same, in part because it always tries to do the same thing: preach hearers out of the Kingdom every week, and then preach them back in. Your hearers need to know their sin and Jesus’ forgiveness, and they also need help taking the next step on their journey of faith. They could use some help figuring out how to rejoice always, or what running with endurance looks like, even as they cling to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Focus on one small step the sermon can help the hearers make this week. Think pragmatics.
Vary the Structure- Another reason the Lutheran Meat Grinder produces homiletical sausage that looks the same every week is because of it’s structure: you preach one part Law, then one part Gospel. In this case, our good theology has replaced good practice. It is essential that we trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled. But the theological insight of Law/Gospel was never supposed to be a sermon structure. In his Third Evening Lecture on Law and Gospel, C. F. W. Walther says, “You must not think that you have rightly divided the Word of Truth if you preach the Law in one part of your sermon and the Gospel in the other. No; a topographical division of this kind is worthless.” Experiment with a variety of structures like Question Answered, Paradox Maintained, Story Interrupted, or Lowry’s Loop. Changing the structure from week to week will help both preachers and hearers stay interested and engaged.
Preach the Unique- Graphic images of faith and life aren’t limited to visions like Daniel or Revelation; even the Pauline epistles are alive with metaphors taken from city life, building construction, agriculture, marriage, parenting, clothing, the human body, household management, slavery, citizenship, the Roman court system, the Old Testament sacrificial system, the marketplace, banking, travel, warfare, the Olympics—and the list could go on. The Lutheran Meat Grinder takes this rich variety and reduces it down to something that sounds the same week after week after week. And while heresy may have killed its thousands, stagnant preaching has killed its tens of thousands. Find what’s unique in the text and preach that. Don’t leave out Law or Gospel: preach both from the unique dynamics of the unique images in the biblical text. Preach what’s unique in the text. Experiment with different structures. And think pragmatics. Your sermons will sound, feel and do something different from week to week.
Your people will be grateful you shelved The Lutheran Meat Grinder. And believe me, preaching will be a lot more fun!
By Pastor Justin Rossow
This article first appeared at

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