The other day I was sent a piece of electronic mail on the topic of ladyburg's use of narrative preaching. I also saw where ladyburg proposed this question on her blog. Since it is Thursday, the day I finish writing my sermon, I have decided to respond here.
First of all lemme say that I think most preaching books suck. They all dibble on theories of preaching but hardly ever give concrete suggestions on how what they propose looks like in finished form; second they hardly ever delve into how their own creative process takes place. Therefore, I have pretty much given up reading "preaching books." Instead I have found it much more helpful to read books of sermons, the actual things. (This just may be my own personality - rather than taking a class on woodworking I simply go out and buy tools and think I'll figure it out eventually) I find that by reading books of sermons I can get an insight into how they are writing, sentence speed, word usage, image formation and employing metaphorical danglings. Now due to the advent of this thing called the internet I can listen to some pretty good (and some pretty terrible) sermons.
So how much of theobilly are in the sermons? When I read Harry Emerson Fosdick, Gardner Taylor, and Peter Gomes I dont find too many personal stories. The warning is always dont let your own personal story trump the gospel message - only use it illuminate it. But I'm sure most of you out there in the preaching world experience the perking of ears whenever you tell a personal story and then a sudden dullity fall when you go back to the gospel story. No one ever tells you how well you explained the complicated language of the Apostle Paul but they will tell you how they loved your Uncle Billy story (just for the record I don't have an uncle Billy). So what is the lesson here? I have no idea. On the one hand folk are nosy and interested in your life and want to hear how it intersects with the good news. On the other hand, I'm sure most of us are a bit lazy when it comes to our story telling abilities and cant find the time to create a hum dinger each week.
A few weeks ago I couldnt stop listening to David Sedaris tapes. I found his stories so entertaining that I decided to write some sermons with him in mind. I began each sermon with a personal story that related to an article on the Apostles Creed. Folk seemed to love it. I reflected that folk appreciate good writing. Sentence structure matters, wordplay matters, delivery matters but a well constructed sentence can almost supercede (that is a legit variant of supersede) delivery. Sedaris has an annoying nasal voice, but he is so funny you dont even pay attention to it.
How much of myself do I reveal? I pretty much lay it all on the line. I figure they share all of their aches and pains, scars at the hospital, hopes and dreams, moments of great sadness, cakes, coffee, tea and joy. The congregation is pretty much transparent with me so I'll be the same way. (This blog however, is not known within the congregation - but if you do a search for me it is easily attainable. I do like to think of the ironic anonymity of blogging from the congregation while at the same time it is available to anyone with internet access).
Does that help ladyburg? What about you out there, yeah you - throw me a bone and lemme know your two cents.