The elements of worship series is a few comments on the elements of the traditional four-fold structure of worship: GATHERING, WORD, SACRAMENT, SENDING. GATHERING included preparation for worship, the call to worship, adoration, and confession and absolution of sin, and the PROCLAMATION started last Monday with the reading of Scripture. We now turn our attention to that most misunderstood and maligned part of worship: the lowly (or, as the case may be, too-exalted) sermon.
The sermon should follow from and be consonant with the Scripture reading, and not take on a life of its own. It should, in short, do whatever is necessary to make the reading clear to the hearers. But the sermon is more than just exposition. It is a performative act: words that do something. We don’t gather to hear the gospel because we forgot it, but because we need to again be braced by God’s voice speaking to us in the gospel. Jean Lebon says it about as well as anyone:
To hear the Christian story retold is not to gather new ideas about the gospel; it is to hear God’s speaking afresh to us, reassuring us of his covenantal faithfulness. It is like a lover proclaiming to the beloved: "I love you!" When lovers proclaim these words they are not simply supplying information; the words perform a certain function: they seal a relationship; they reveal the speakers’ intention; they have transforming power.
"Preaching is Spirit-inspired speech… it is a word reborn by the Holy Spirit in the preacher. A greater existential involvement is required by preaching than by reading. In preaching the preacher is bearing witness to the truth he or she is proclaiming and staking his or her life on it" (Simon Chan).
So while preaching will necessarily have some expositional elements to it, explanation should not dominate the sermon. David Fitch is helpful here:
The primary move of preaching will not be sentence-by-sentence
exposition & explaining, then an application. Instead the primary
move of the preacher will be to describe the world as it is via the
person and work of Jesus Christ, then invite the hearers into this
reality by calling for submission, confession, obedience, or the
affirmation of a truth.
Not take-home application points, but active liturgical response. Sermons ought to be works of poetry, world-making words that proclaim the drama of God’s redemptive work in Christ over against the stories that vie for the attention of the church day after day: nationalism (Go America!), consumerism (You’ll Feel Better After You Buy Those Pants!), materialism (You Need A Bigger House!), activism (You’ll Feel A Lot Less Guilty After You’ve Saved the World!).
In the sermon, the gospel is again proclaimed: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, not America, not a President or Prime Minister, not politics or the economy, not mortgage rates or foreign policy. Jesus Christ has the last word, the crucified Jewish Messiah is the Lord of the world. The sermon’s job is to announce the reality of the gospel and call people to respond to it.