Preaching Without a Community Text

For the first time in months, I’ve spent Monday morning studying. I haven’t been in the pulpit for nearly three months but on Sunday I will preach. I will preach at a church I’ve visited just once. It’s a church that I know very little about other than what I saw on that one Sunday morning. I’ll care for this congregation during worship while the pastor is away — but it’s the first time that I have ever really preached without a community text.

This is a problem.

There are many that quote Karl Barth saying that we must “do theology with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” That’s all well and good. But, that’s not the refrain that repeats in my head over and over again. Instead, I hear my preaching professor in seminary asking: What is the community text? Because the answer to this question is where the Scripture text meets the reality of the experience of this group of people. It’s how the good news becomes activated. As she explained to Ministry Matters:

the sermon is a meeting place between the Scripture text and the community text. Each text has a unique voice. Both the Scripture text and the community text must be exegeted with attentiveness and care, not in order to be “relevant” but in order to hear God’s living word in its depth and particularity.

I’ve done my exegesis of the Scripture. I’ve immersed myself in the amazing good news in 1 John 4:7-21. It’s one of my very favorite passages. I could say so many things about this good news. That’s what scares me. That’s why my cursor is blinking. That’s why no words are coming.

say-anything-1-435x580I could say anything — anything I wanted.

I could say anything.

This wasn’t a bad thing for Lloyd Dobler. With his boom box and even with his pen, he wasn’t afraid to use his words. Or the words of Peter Gabriel to prove a point. But, he didn’t say anything. He knew what he needed to say and he said it. He loved Diane Court. There was nothing that was ever going to stop him from loving Diane Court. So he made it known. That’s why it’s such an amazing romantic gesture that every girl my age secretly wishes would happen to her. (That was not a hint.) Because he knew what he needed to say. And he said it.

1 John 4:7-21 isn’t about romantic love and my sermon will probably not reference Lloyd Dobler. Probably. But, it’s about love. If there is a one word definition of what being a Christian is all about, it’s love. Love is from God. Let’s love each other. It should be an easy sermon to preach but I have so many questions about the community text. I want to know how this particular body of Christ experiences love. Are they one of those churches that relishes in their time together? Or is this a stumbling block because they haven’t yet created that sense of community? I want to know what they love and how do they love. Because I really don’t want to say anything. I want to know what needs to be said and say that. Then again, that will probably come from God. Not from me.

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