The dialogical sermon
For many years I have been developing a way of reading the Bible
with people that is clearly different from a typical Bible study
or sermon yet similar to both. I will call it a dialogical sermon
here, though it's exact genre may be other.
I seek to engage individuals in groups of two to twenty-five in
a theological conversation by helping them see themselves in the
stories of struggle and liberation in the Scriptures.
I seek to formulate questions that draw people out about issues
that directly affect them. Most often I begin with a question about
people's lives, and then introduce a Biblical story and ask questions
that help uncover the deeper truths of the text. Other times I begin
with the text-which is most often the case on Sunday, when I am
using the selections from the Common Lectionary.
In preparation for my dialogical sermon I seek to first determine
what questions or issues the Biblical text appears to be addressing.
This is often the most difficult task, requiring both careful exegesis
and spiritual discernment regarding the text and group participants.
The questions that guide my preparatory reading include:
- What is the heart of the matter in the text?
- What question does the Biblical text appear to be addressing
or in some way answering? (3)
Since most texts can be read to address numerous issues, I attempt
to identify the multiple levels of meaning, prioritizing the issues
apparently addressed in the text. (4)
The following description of a Bible study on Jesus' encounter
with the man born blind and subsequent power struggle with the Pharisees
in John 9 represents an attempt to begin with text. This particular
story fits the purposes of this essay in that it places three ways
of embodying God side-by-side.
The disciples, Jesus and the Pharisees each in turn communicate
through their words and actions distinct understandings of God and
ways of being present to one particular marginalized person -- the
man born blind. While the following dialogical sermon/Bible study
happened in a county jail, this sort of "encounter" can
happen nearly anywhere where people can turn and face each other.
After briefly presenting this jail encounter, I will present some
reflections on preaching and ways of being present that empower.
Next: Learning together of Jesus'
liberating pedagogy in John 9:1-41