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Follow God’s Lead

By Zack Eswine

There once was a man who fussed and dreamed for a solemn and quiet place of rest beneath a tree. Alone with his sadness, the man fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, the man slowly discovered he had slept for years. Life had gone on without him.

He got up from his sleeping place and began to walk around. What was once familiar now seemed strange to him. Bewildered, the man returned to his home village. But once there, he did not recognize any of its people. This loss of recognition surprised him, "For he had thought himself acquainted with everyone in the country round."

The villagers were equally puzzled. The man’s appearance was odd to them, his presence awkward. His clothes and mannerisms belonged to an earlier time, they thought.

So there they were, the man and the villagers, standing foreign to one another. One villager finally found the courage to speak. He asked the man who he was. The man responded that he was at his "wit’s end." He looked around at the villagers somewhat embarrassed.

"God knows," he said, "I’m not myself … I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain … and everything’s changed."1

"Everything’s changed" describes what many preachers feel. We are like people "who fell asleep and woke up in a foreign country," says one preacher. "The preaching that connected in that old world … won’t connect to this one."2

In contrast, "nothing’s changed" describes what many villagers feel. To them, the clothes and mannerisms of preachers belong to an earlier time. Their appearance is odd and their presence awkward. "The entire project of religion seems perfectly backward," says one villager. "It cannot survive the changes that have come over us — culturally, technologically, and even ethically."3

Nostalgia and Invention

When the road bends like this, sermon givers and listeners often join together in order to form movements that offer answers. Movements can be helpful but also confusing. They tend to divide us preachers into two basic perspectives and vie for our allegiance. These perspectives we might loosely identify as the nostalgic and the inventive.

Nostalgic preachers tend to believe that the best homiletic practices have already happened. Preaching will flourish only if it returns to what it once was.

In contrast, inventive preachers feel that past models are outdated and ill-equipped to handle fresh cultural challenges. For them, preaching, if it is needed at all, will thrive only if it reinvents itself. These movements urge us to create something new.

Invention comes generally with two perspectives. On the one hand, some will always feel that preaching doesn’t seem to work at all. This stream of inventive preachers declares that preaching is broken and must be abandoned. On the other hand, some inventive preachers will not go that far. They appreciate a bit more of what has gone before. They don’t want to do away with old forms. Rather, they want to update old forms. The key is to find the form best suitable for translating truth for our cultural moment.

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