If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Preaching Peace

(Christ) came and proclaimed peace…. Ephesians 2:17

Peace and justice are essential to the reconciling gospel. And preaching is a significant form of communicating the gospel within the life of the church. Within most Anabaptist-Mennonite churches the worship service is centered around the proclamation of the Word. Preachers often spend a significant amount of their time during the week in sermon preparation. So, it becomes imperative that pastors, and others with responsibility for proclaiming the Word, reflect on the nature of preaching peace and justice.

First, preaching peace and justice is more than preaching on peace and justice. Preaching on peace for Peace Sunday or during a crisis of war is well and good, but preaching peace and justice calls for a consistent and comprehensive understanding and practice. Any preacher can tell you that preaching involves more than standing at the pulpit on a particular Sunday morning and talking for twenty minutes. It involves an ongoing practice of interpreting texts, structuring the sermon, considering the liturgical, congregational, and social contexts, using language creatively, and communicating with mind, passion, voice, and body. In the same way, preaching peace and justice is far more than occasionally addressing peace and justice as topics. It is an ongoing discipline integrated consistently into a perennial practice.

Preaching peace and justice is a comprehensive enterprise. It entails a wide range of skills and disciplines, including biblical interpretation, use of language and illustrations, and addressing liturgical, ecclesial, social, and political contexts. How does a preacher interpret and proclaim problematic texts concerning slavery, women’s roles, or negative depictions of the Jewish people? Do the language, stories, and illustrations in the sermon reinforce gender, racial, or class stereotypes or present marginalized groups in a positive light? How do prayers, readings, offering, hymns, as well as sermon, proclaim peace and justice? How does the preacher speak to poverty, injustice, domestic violence, war, racism, and sexism in ways the congregation will listen? Developing skills and disciplines that address these and other questions form preaching into a practice that engenders peace and justice.

Second, if we understand peace and justice to be essential to the gospel, we will seek to ground peace and justice in scripture and Christian theology. Many Christians do not see the connection between faith and politics nor peace and justice with the gospel. Any talk of peace and justice is initially heard as a form of partisan politics. Grounding peace and justice clearly in biblical texts and Christian theology through the continuing practices of teaching and preaching helps to create the awareness of peace and justice as integral to the Christian faith and message. A comprehensive study of those biblical texts that address peace and justice, and even problematic ones, within the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are important preparation for preaching on peace and justice. There may be some interpreters who might benefit from utilizing emancipatory methodologies of biblical interpretation, such as those found in feminist, African-American/womanist, Latino/mujerista, liberationist, political, and postcolonial readings of the Bible alongside traditional male, Eurocentric interpretive approaches. Or interpreters might simply ask how a particular text or interpretation can support gender, racial, class, and social equality.

An exploration of the implications of Christian theology for social issues might provide a rich supply of sermons on peace and justice. What does the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper have to say to hunger in the world? Does the Christian practice of hospitality address our attitudes and practices towards immigrants and strangers? Can the catholicity or universality of the church speak to issues such as nationalism and war?

Third, it is important to recognize that preaching itself is an act of nonviolent resistance. The apostle Paul went from voicing violent threats against followers of Jesus to proclaiming Christ’s nonviolent cross as the way of salvation. He understood that the principalities and powers of this world are resisted by “proclaiming the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 2:17). Rather than confronting the powers with violent weapons of human warfare, Paul tells the church to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Preaching is a rhetorical alternative to violent domination. It is a practice of nonviolence.

As a nonviolent practice preaching should avoid the rhetorical violence of castigating moralism. Pointing the finger and accusing the congregation for breaking God’s commandments or for being racist, sexist, and warmongers will probably not, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “win friends and influence people.” Moralizing places all the power of change within the realm of human effort. It is command without empowerment. Do this and don’t do that. Being prophetic does not necessarily mean replacing God’s power and grace with human works. The preacher can proclaim a gospel of power and grace, while at the same time calling the church to a vision and practice of peace and justice. Preachers of peace and justice can proclaim the God who has the power not only to transform individuals, but also institutions and social systems. Prophetic preaching can be hopeful. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which grew out of his African-American preaching tradition, addressed racism in America with a hopeful and inspiring vision.

Fourth, preaching peace and justice calls for awareness of our social context. Preaching must always be contextual. In order to connect the good news with peace and justice the preacher should be to some extent informed about what is going on locally, nationally, and globally in peace and justice. The context will form the particular shape of the sermon. What does the gospel of peace have to say to a congregation living during a war? What shape will a sermon on justice take in a highly segregated suburban community? How will the awareness of the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. impact a sermon on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus? Context will shape the sermon, stories, illustrations, and ethical implications.

Preaching peace and justice is more than preaching on peace and justice. It is a comprehensive, nonviolent practice of resistance and ecclesial formation that connects our faith to a world in need of spiritual transformation.

Annotated Bibliography


Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson, Interpreting Difficult Texts: Anti-Judaism and Christian Preaching Trinity Press International, 1989.

An examination of difficult New Testament texts reflecting anti-Judaism is provided for preachers.

Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson, Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

The authors provide a thorough examination of lectionary texts that are anti-Judaism.

Kathy Black, A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability Abingdon, 1996.

Black provides important hermeneutical insights for preaching justly about disabilities from biblical texts.

Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., Preaching the Just Word Yale University Press, 1996.

This Catholic theologian offers insights on preaching on peace and justice grounded in the Bible and Catholic social teaching.

Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Following William Stringfellow and Walter Wink’s theological lead, Campbell encourages preachers to challenge the powers by forming communities of resistance through practicing what we preach.

James M. Childs, Jr. Preaching Justice: The Ethical Vocation of Word and Sacrament Ministry Trinity Press International 2000.

The author sets forth a biblical and theological foundation for preaching on justice as the heart of the church’s mission and witness.

R. Scott Colglazier, ed., Yes to Peace: Sermons on the Shalom of God Chalice Press, 2001.

These sermons speak to global peace and include several discussion questions.

James W. Crawford, Worthy to Raise Issues: Preaching and Public Responsibility Pilgrim Press, 1991.

This book is a collection of 12 sermons by James Crawford addressing such issues as political power, economic and social justice.

Justo L. Gonzalez and Catherine G. Gonzalez, The Liberating Pulpit Abingdon Press, 1994.

Written from a liberation theological perspective, the authors address hermeneutical issues in service of the poor and oppressed.

James H. Harris, Preaching Liberation Fortress Press, 1995.

Written from an African-American liberation perspective, Harris addresses biblical, theological, hermeneutical, and methodological issues in preaching for human emancipation.

Leo Hartshorn, Interpretation and Preaching as Communal and Dialogical Practices: An Anabaptist Perspective. Edwin Mellen Press, 2006.
This book was my doctoral dissertation. It seeks to construct an inclusive, emancipatory model of (Ana)baptist preaching through an examination of Anabaptist, theological, and homiletical sources.

Dieter T. Hessel, For Creation’s Sake: Preaching Ecology and Justice Presbyterian Pub. Corp., 1985.

Dieter T. Hessel, ed., Social Themes of the Christian Year: A Commentary on the Lectionary Geneva Press, 1983.

Here is a helpful resource for preaching on social issues throughout the Christian year.

Howard Clark Kee and Irvin J. Borowsky, eds., Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit Continuum, 1996.

The authors of these essays examine historical and interpretive issues for approaching anti-Judaism in biblical texts and preaching.

Stan L. Lequire, ed., The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons for Creation Judson Press, 1996.

This collection of sermons provides a wide range of sample sermons on creation care.

John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay, eds., Telling the Truth: Preaching About Sexual and Domestic Violence United Church Press, 1998.

This collection of essays provides theological and ethical grounding, with sermon samples, for preaching on sexual and domestic violence. Includes an interesting essay on “Preaching as Nonviolent Resistance.”

Jennifer M. Philips, Preaching Creation: Throughout the Christian Year Cowley Pub., 2000.

This resource addresses environmental issues connected to the lectionary texts through the cycle of years A, B, and C on the Christian calendar.

Andre Resner, Jr., ed., Just Preaching: Prophetic Voices for Economic Justice Chalice Press, 2003.

Resner has collected 32 essays and prophetic sermons that address poverty and economic justice.

Ron J. Sider and Daniel J. Brubaker, Preaching on Peace Fortress Press, 1971.

This somewhat dated collection of sermons from a wide variety of denominational perspectives seeks to address the problem of nuclear weapons.

Christine M. Smith, Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.

Smith presents preaching as a means to grapple with the evils of handicappism, ageism, heterosexism, sexism, white racism, and classism.

Christine Smith, ed., Preaching Justice: Ethnic and Cultural Perspectives United Church Press, 1998.

Contributors to this collection of essays write on transformative preaching on justice from eight diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds.

Arthur Van Seters, ed., Preaching as a Social Act: Theology and Practice Abingdon, 1988.

This collection of essays lays a groundwork for preaching on social issues by speaking to the social nature, context, and function of preaching.

J. Philip Wogaman, Speaking the Truth in Love: Prophetic Preaching to a Broken World Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Wogaman discusses the biblical and theological grounding of prophetic preaching, the pastoral and liturgical context, moral decision making, how to discuss social issues from the pulpit, and responding to criticism.

Web sites

Preaching the Just Word: http://www.georgetown.edu/centers/woodstock/pjw.htm

Preaching Peace: http://preachingpeace.org

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