Recently I was asked by a former student how to adequately express joy in a sermon without sounding “slap-happy.” The preacher had been told by several members of her congregation that she sounded a bit sappy when she talked about the joy we can all find in our faith. They just didn’t “buy” her joy when she preached.
I am not even going to go into the fact that there is a significant possibility that the comment was sexist – since it possibly was. And I am not going to touch the fact that preaching without joy seems oxymoronic in most circumstances (however I admit there are times when abundant joy is not appropriate – like Good Friday and other more solemn occasions).
So here’s the deal. Preaching with joy is important. The people in our churches and communities of faith are often in search for a good word, a spark of hope, and a sense that God is present. Going into the pulpit prepared to speak a word of grace, hope and joy is important. Doing so is imperative in today’s climate.
But it also must be done with sincerity and authenticity. Perhaps my former student’s presentation of the Gospel’s joy was not in character with her normal pulpit presence or was in contrast to her physical presentation. Maybe she was exhibiting a joy that was not related to the text of her sermon. Perhaps she had not prepared her people to receive a message of joy. Maybe – just maybe – she was out of touch with her people and did not realize they were not in a place of hearing joy.
There is more to preaching than exegeting (doing research, study, interpretation, and analysis on) the text and writing a sermon manuscript or outline. One of the most important pieces of preaching involves exegeting the community. We have to know our people in order for our words to better reach them. We have to know what is going on in their lives, in our community, and in their faith journey.
Taking the time to really get to know our people puts us in the position to be able to relate what we are doing from the pulpit in ways that connect the text to their lived lives.
Being authentic and showing who we are in ways that communicate the Gospel’s joy and its passion is imperative. Many in and outside of the church today feel a disconnect between their lives and the Gospel message preached in our pulpits. They need to feel God’s presence, to hear a word of grace and hope, and to experience moments of awe and joy.
And they also need to feel the passion of Christ’s suffering and death, the feelings of “lostness” in the parables of Jesus, and to learn to experience the transformation of lives brought about by the life and death of Jesus.
We are called to share this – all of this story with our people. We are called to share this message as authentically and connectively as possible. We are called to be honest and “real” in our preaching. We are called to know our people so that all of this is possible.
So get to know your people … spend time with them, learn what is important to them, study and play with them, and let them get to know you. If you do this … they can hear the joy, the hope, the passion and the amazing grace you are called to preach to and with them.
Preach away folks.