Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Countdown to Sunday

The best part of cross-country flights for a voracious reader, like myself, is one can read a book cover-to-cover during the travel span.

Take Monday, for instance. I left out of San Jose at 6:30 a.m. and landed in Little Rock at 3:00 p.m. The book of choice for this cross-country trip was one given me as a gift by Steve Thurman. Steve's neighbor is Chris Erdman, a preacher and professor who's written about preaching in Countdown to Sunday: A Daily Guide For Those Who Dare To Preach. Erdman's thesis calls preachers to raise up congregations of preachers -- to think of preaching in terms of mobilizing the congregation to be a preaching people.

I was especially impacted by his chapter devoted to illustrations. Anyone who's ever preached knows sermon illustrations -- tracking them down, cataloging them and utilizing them at just the right time -- are one of the most difficult aspects of skilled preaching.

Yet because of his central thesis, Erdman turns traditional concepts of sermon illustrating on their ear.

"We preachers want to illustrate our sermons, but I'd rather we didn't -- not with what passes for sermon illustration today. Not unless we can move the practice of illustration away from the hackneyed art it's become. Not unless we can talk about sermon illustration in terms that don't mimic the tactics used to sell everything (tangible in our consumer-driven culture)...By the way we engage this business of sermon illustration you'd think we don't believe that the Bible's very interesting" (110-11).

And then there's this, that nails together Erdman's concept of a good illustration with his thesis of the church as a preaching people: "Sermon illustration isn't about 'setting up your message in a way that pulls your congregation in' and delivering an inspiring speech. It's about fashioning a congregation that is itself an illustration of the sermon...the church is the kind of illustration the God of the Bible is interested in" (114, 116).

What a revolutionary thought: the church as the illustration. The church among the world as the illustration of the Word. It seems to fit with the incarnation, doesn't it? The reality that God sent the Word into the world to illustrate in living color who God is (John 1.1-14; Colossians 1.15-19; Hebrews 1.1-3).

Here's hoping today finds your life to be a gripping, inspiring illustration to the world of what life with God is truly like!