Narrative preaching: Who knew?

Lay Servant Ministries


Last month my preaching world was turned upside down by taking the Certified Lay Minister preaching course offered online by the Great Plains Conference.  The course was based on “The Homiletical Plot,” by Gene Lowry. This book is a classic for those who are seminary trained but was unfamiliar to most in the class. The purpose of the book was for readers to “lay aside cherished norms about sermon anatomy” to form a new image of the sermon. The homiletical plot is a narrative art form, “a sacred story,” “an event in time”.
The challenge given was to craft a sermon – throwing aside the three points – plotting a story built in a specific way so that listeners are engaged and surprised by what is being said. The stages described included: upsetting the equilibrium, analyzing the discrepancy, disclosing the clue to resolution, experience the gospel and anticipating the consequences. The sermon was to have a “surprise twist” – this was much more difficult than it sounded. 
Following is the sermon I preached using the homiletical plot. I’m not saying it was done correctly, but it was my best effort (note that I preach a phrase sermon/not from a manuscript).  See what you think of this style. Consider reading “The Homiletical Plot” and breaking away from your current sermon structure. I’m willing to craft sermons differently in the future.

Consider Lasagna
do less

Luke 10:38-42 New International Version (NIV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
  1. Upsetting the Equilibrium
clearly, “the one thing” Martha needed was help
apparently, Jesus had never been in charge of a dinner party
because when he dropped by unannounced
12 of his closest friends…
he didn’t realize that he created a lot of work
                it’s no wonder Martha was worried and upset about many things
                i’m worried and upset
                anyone who has been in charge of big dinner thinks Martha had a really valid point
i’m team Martha
i believe Martha was right
but if Martha was right, that would make Jesus…wrong
and Jesus can’t be wrong
He’s the Son of God
  1. Analyzing the Discrepancy
some questions come to mind
Martha was distracted by all the preparations
  • what was Martha preparing? 
customary with vegetables and lentils with bread…maybe fish
was she distracted making a vegan, gluten free locally sourced artisan dinner?
is that what the guests expected?
  • was Martha one of those people who couldn’t be helped?
neither my husband or I can be helped
loading the dishwasher
that’s because he read the instructions and I did not
so he knows the “right” way
if I help him he has to rearrange everything I put in
some people can’t be helped
  • why did Jesus correct Martha when clearly she was freaking out already?
        like at Thanksgiving
        having 20 people
        putting spices in alphabetical order
        someone suggests I relax
        that’s not helpful
        what is helpful is when people help
  • why didn’t Jesus help her?
wasn’t the role of men to prepare food
Jesus was no ordinary man
came to serve
  1. Disclosing the Clue to Resolution
we can look at Scripture for answers…
41 “Martha, Martha,” 
Rev. Nadine Drayton-Keen in her blog, “Gone Fishin’”
reminds us that in the Bible, when God called a person’s name twice
the occasion or person was immediately elevated to one of great biblical importance
Jesus called
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat…
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Martha being spoken to with a double salutation
puts her in the company of Bible legends
Jesus valued Martha, important to the Kingdom
so it was a kind correction, affirming correction
                …“you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.       Mary has              chosen what is better…”
Mary chose to sit and listen
so there is of course
the most common interpretation
“one thing”- listen
lesson of priorities
let some things go
to listen
                Fred B Craddock
commentary on the Gospel of Luke
mentions an alternate meaning of “one thing”
                suggests that the “one thing”
                means one dish is enough (entrée/no sides)
                keep it simple
           Jesus didn’t even have a pillow for his head
                so his expectations for dinner
                were probably much lower than Martha was thinking
                so what if the
one thing Jesus wanted was for Martha
to do less
Jesus didn’t want Martha to be worried and upset
so instead of helping her with her busywork
did the most helpful thing of all
He invited Martha to do less
gave her permission to let some things go
  1. Experiencing the Gospel
                maybe Martha was creating her own problem
                making things harder than they need to be
“if Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy”
when I think about Jesus, “busy” isn’t one of the first adjectives that comes to mind
Jesus didn’t come to do busywork
he didn’t have a checklist of tasks to accomplish
he came to build relationships
today’s culture
being busy is admirable
sign of achievement/of importance
and it’s easier to prioritize tasks
tasks are rewarding
cross tasks off your list
multitasking is the way of the world
is not the way of Jesus
we are called to be different
to focus, engage in relationship with Jesus
to reach others for Him
for me, it will require give up some busywork
lower my own exhausting standards
  1. Anticipating the Consequences
            there is a type of dinner party that is trending right now with millennials
                The 5 Rules of the Dinner Party:
            invite friends/family to show up at your door with little notice
        no housework is to be done prior to a guest's arrival
        the menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop
                you must wear whatever you happen to have on
                no hostess gifts allowed
                 (“Come as You Are” party)
                don’t prepare
                I could never do it
                work towards that…
this year at Easter I had family in town
thought long and hard about how to keep my priorities in order
challenged myself to do less
focus on the Resurrection
not on Easter brunch
set the bar very high
one year I folded the napkins like bunnies
rather than spending the weekend in the kitchen
doing everything is my tradition
decided on “one dish”- lasagna
(thus the sermon title “Consider Lasagna”)
enjoyed Easter service and my family
able to do less
no one noticed
napkins were shaped like napkins
Jesus reminds me today that the one thing is needed
to listen to Him
for me that requires
doing less
was Martha able to let some things go?
we don’t really know
fitting to close with the words of
Elisabeth Johnson in her commentary on this passage: 
“Luke’s story is left suspended.  We do not know what happened next…whether Martha was finally able to                 sit and give her full attention to Jesus.  We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and            distracted by many things
to sit and rest in his presence,
to hear his words of grace and truth,
to know that we are loved and valued as children of God,
to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service.”

Learn more about Lay Servant Ministries, including upcoming training opportunities.

Julie Schropp is the Kansas City District director of Lay Servant Ministries.