Rolling About in the Dirt

One of the mandatory classes I had to take in seminary was homiletics.  Simply put it was a course that taught preachers how to preach. The final grade was based not only on the professor’s studied opinion, but on the opinion of the class as well. I never much cared for the notion of being graded by my peers, but those were the rules. As it turned out, most of my fellow seminarians didn’t like the cut of my jib when it came to my preferred style of preaching. Thus, the prospect of getting a poor grade in homiletics weighed heavily on me. I could well imagine sitting down with some future church committee as they browsed through the remnants of my sparse resume and having someone pipe up and say: “You seem like a nice enough young man, but it appears that you received a “D” in preaching. Would you care to explain that laddie?”As it turned out, the only person who cared for my sermons was the preaching prof. He overruled the critics, broke his own rules and gave me  an “A”. That was an “A” for “Amen” baby!

Part of the problem with my classmates was that they wanted me to prescribe to a formula. The formulas were distilled either to “3 points and a poem” or to, “Tell them what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you said.” Yet, when I read the gospels and the style of Jesus, I saw a free-flowing method that picked illustrations from the crowd in the moment. And, in context, Jesus had a roaring sense of humor. When he gave the bit about the Good Samaritan, a good portion of the crowd had to be chuckling and elbowing one another. A smaller portion of the crowd was most likely fuming and staring at their sandals. The latter would be the ones who fit the description of the religious leaders so agenda-driven that they refused to stop and help the man who lay beaten and bleeding in the ditch. To punch up his story even more, Jesus spoke of a Samaritan who was in fact, good. It would be like an Irishman preaching about the good Englishman during the potato famine.

All that to say that when we read the Scriptures God is inviting our imaginations along for the ride. To read the Scriptures in a sterile, “religious” way robs them of the intended grace. We are to feel, see and hear right along with the audience. To grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus means we place ourselves, as best we can, in the context of his life, his teachings, his death and his resurrection. Grace is not afraid to roll in the dust of earth. Grace risks getting dirty because it is meant to reclaim and adopt a bunch of rebellious kids. If we’ve not understood grace to be that –if it’s just some vague theological concept – we’ve missed out on a good deal of the joy.