Struggling with a Sermon

I have spent the last five years writing my PhD thesis on a few chapters from the Book of Judges. In 2021 the plan is to finish. So, as I approach the end, I wanted to share some of the things I have learned. I decided we’d work our way through the whole book as a church. And then I got ready to preach Judges 3 and I struggled. Who chose to preach through this book?!

I struggled with two things in particular. First, I had two illustrations dragging me in two directions. The first illustration that I was going to weave through the whole sermon was the TV series Killing Eve. I was drawn to this series because it explores an assassin’s life and confronts us with our fascination and repulsion with violence. At the same time, I wanted to talk about Bonhoeffer and his wrestle with the possibility of assassinating Hitler. It started to feel like I was cramming in too much, in the end, I cut the Killing Eve reference though kept the line about our fascination with violence. The new illustration became the real-life violent protests happening around the world. This is a great tip I learned a long time ago in a writing course: sometimes we need to be ruthless and edit. Cut illustrations out, even the ones you really love. You do this to sharpen the sermon’s focus. I realised that I wanted the focus to be on the question of violence and whether it’s ever ok to engage in violence. That helped me determine what illustrations I needed.

The sermon’s question led to my second struggle. The text seems to suggest that God does use violent means to achieve his purposes. Is that ok? I posed that question to the congregation, but honestly, it was a question I struggled with a lot this week. I listened to podcasts trying to help me wrap my head around that question. In the past, I have been quick to skip over such questions or ignore them. And it’s easy to do so because you don’t have long to prepare and you want to say something that will help people in some way to encounter God. This is a tension preachers’ have to navigate: their responses (how much to share) and anticipating their congregation’s responses. The Book of Judges will raise a lot of questions. It will be a struggle. We will have to learn to live with this tension. But I think that is how it works when it comes to faith.

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