I’ve been listening to David Jeremiah each Sunday morning and am somewhat intrigued by his alliterative outlines. They are a) helpful in learning, b) healing for life, and c) hard to live up to (Just couldn’t resist that!). So I took a second look at Peter’s counsel in chapter one that we are to “love one another fervently from a pure heart” (v. 22), and asked how the good doctor might expand that from context. I believe he might tell us that we have been ENABLED to love because we have “purified our souls by obedience to the truth” (vs. 22), ENCOURAGED by love because we have been “born again . . . by the Word of God” (vs. 23), and ENLISTED in love because like “grass” (vs. 24) our time is short and that calls for discipline.
My point is homiletical. I would never say alliteration is the answer, but it does lead us to examine an individual text in its scriptural context. Attention to context shows the inter-related nature of the various elements in the text and provides new insights. Too many sermons are religious essays that, while not necessarily wrong, are not expositions of the Word. When you get right down to it, hungry hearts want to hear what God has to say. It’s discouraging that so often the congregation hears what the preacher thinks about a text rather than what God is saying. It’s fun to be reminded that Ambrose Bierce wrote, somewhat satirically, that love is “a temporary insanity curable by marriage” and that Veronica Hay, the inspirational author, understands love as “that deep joy of connectivity.” However, significantly beyond the best that even the most gifted speaker could ever say is the powerful reality of God himself speaking in and through his spokesman. The primary goal of the person in the pulpit is to explain the text and in the process allow God himself to be the one who speaks to the heart. It may seem strange to the contemporary churchgoer but God is actually there. He is the one who addresses the specific needs of those who are listening. Proclaiming the good news is not so much telling it to people as it is allowing God to use your words to speak directly to the human heart.
No one stepping behind the pulpit should forget that “the supreme task of every preacher is to lead people into the presence of God.”