In her essay “Preaching for Mission: Ancient Speeches and Postmodern Sermon”, Mary E. Hinkle raises a practical and today’s relevant issue of preaching the sermon from the book of Acts. She illustrates how the speeches dominate the actions in the Acts. In another word, the long speeches in Acts have also drawn the hearers in and engaged them with the speakers. Therefore, the author herself being a preacher and teacher, she presents her main idea how the speeches also can communicate powerfully like stories and can reveal the reality they have not known before. In addition, the author discusses about the significance of contextualization of the speeches for preaching in a postmodern world.
To begin with her biblical material or biblical themes in Acts, Hinkle introduces varied collection of speeches from Acts. By hearing or reading these speeches, we can see how they change agreeing with the context or remain the same while the elements of preaching event like the speaker, the setting, the audience, and the audience’s familiarity with the scripture change. The author further states that the apostles in the Acts narrate the story from Israel’s scripture in their speeches. At the same time, they also contextualize their speech with their own experience with Jesus and welcome the response from other people regarding the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the objectives of the apostles’ speeches are to include narrative stories of God’s interaction with his chosen people and his creation, along with the Promised One, Jesus Christ to save his people. And the apostles immediately encompass the hearers also as a part of that story.
Basically, Hinkle introduces these two objectives with some examples of speeches from Stephen, Barnabas, and Paul. All three speeches give us an idea for contemporary preaching to this modern era as well. These speeches explain what stories the apostles include in their speeches, and how they make the stories realistic and relational to the audiences. Firstly, the speech of Stephen to the Sanhedrin addresses the Jews who are familiar with the scriptures. Stephen opts for the usage of first-person plural forms throughout his speech. The selection of proper word connects his hearers with him in the story he is telling about. They all become a part of the story. Then, he blends the past events with the present events to conclude with God’s work in their lives, and their negative response toward God. As soon as he closes the speech, he persuades his hearers to find themselves in the story to know who they really are.
Secondly, Paul’s speech to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch remains the same as of the speech of Stephen. The elements of the preaching event only change. Paul commences his speech from the promise of God in the past for his hearers and now the work of God in their lives at present. Paul’s speech invites his hearers into discussion of current events. Paul explains them not only about the fulfillment of promise of God through the sacrifice of Jesus, but instructs his hearers to respond positively also to the story he is telling. Paul also closes his speech with direct address of warning to his hearers to make them aware of the prophecies. Group of characters in the story of Paul’s speech divide into two streams – a character of promise keeper of God, and a character that discards the will of God and his messengers.
Thirdly, the speech of Paul and Barnabas to the gentiles at Lystra is thoroughly different speech than previous two speeches. The preaching changes and the elements of the preaching also change as the audience of Paul and Barnabas are pagans who worship idols. The speech centralizes in God’s interaction with the audience and the role of God in the creation. The speech invites the hearers to turn back from idol to living God. Paul and Barnabas include their hearers in the story by arguing that their story is the story of Lyconians too. The direct address of this speech provides the interpretive frame for each hearer to find himself or herself through his or her own experience in the story of Paul and Barnabas.
Similarly, the author plainly observes the ancient speeches of the apostles. They simply narrate the story of God’s interaction with his people, with his creation, and with Jesus Christ in their speech. Moreover, the apostles create the healthy environment for their hearers with context, or interpretive frame for their current experiences to find their position in the story. They encourage the audience to find themselves in their own world, culture, and tradition in terms of that story. Ultimately, the story demands response from the hearer to bear the witness of God’s work in their lives. Thus, the speakers in Acts are uncomplicatedly telling the story of living God to all kinds of people groups.
Hinkle suggests the contemporary preachers to create the worlds of the context for the hearers so that they may find themselves within the story. She further says that we should contextualize the story of Jesus in the context of our audience so that they can relate the story in our own lives. The apostles were not hesitant to tell the story of Jesus, and proclaim the resurrection of Christ beyond the borders. But the postmodern Christians feel shy and reluctant to speak about Jesus.
In brief, the author concludes with presentation of Stephen’s death at the outside wall of the city, and Paul’s preaching in the synagogue. She tries to show how these people proclaim the truth of God in speeches, and live their life true to the scriptures. Hinkle claims that if we live our lives that are accurate with our own speech, our own story may become the most persuasive speech for other people in the postmodern context.
I agree with the main point and the conclusion of the author. She states that the sermons also can reach out to the different audiences and draw the attention of them into the reality of their lives which will show their present state of life. Of course, we can reach out to every tribe and nation with the sermons in the postmodern context. Indeed, people like to hear the narrative story; however, we can also impact people through well-organized sermons. We should follow the apostles who contextualize the gospel in the context where they preach. We should simplify the sermons so that people may relate to the story and experiences of the Bible in their own context.
The three examples of sermon in Acts are the very realistic and powerful sermons throughout the book. Each sermon has distinctive lesson for us. The sermon of Stephen to Sanhedrin and the sermon of Paul to Pisidian Antioch have some common ground, though the result of the preaching is quite different than each other. Both sermons are for the Jews who know about God, his promise, his interaction with their ancestors, and waiting for Messiah to come for their deliverance. Ironically, both sermons end up with rejection from these Jews; they oppose their own deliverer and reject the message of God too. But both of these sermons reveal that the Jews audiences are the part of this story these apostles are sharing.
The sermon of Paul and Barnabas to the pagan gentiles in Lystra is completely different than the previous two sermons. In this case, the receptors are no more acquainted with the scripture. There is no any alternative way for these two apostles to address these gentiles unless the apostles change the contents of their sermon in the gentile’s context. Without judging the audience, the speakers present the story to show their present state who they are. The hearers also find their role fitting in the story accordingly. All these sermons are excellent and skillfully presented by the apostles. The sermons specifically interpret the role the hearers in the story. They realize who they are and what they are doing in the story.
I find this article very helpful for the ministry as the author has addressed the current issue of preaching sermon in the context of the auditors. The sample sermons also teach us how to contextualize the speech. These speeches coach us to preach the sermon in different context without avoiding main theme of the story of God. To achieve this goal, we simply should include the salvation plan of God and our response toward God. The particular sermon examples in the journal prevail upon the culture, traditions, and cross all the barriers because the speakers deal with all the realities of the audience. The success of the speech depends on how the speakers address the issues of the audience. Once they, whether believe the sermon or not, find themselves in the story, it stirs up the characters of the story. All these examples can be a gift of preaching for us to extend the kingdom of God through our lives.
In my life, I have also had difficult time hearing the sermons which are not well-organized and prepared. Usually, this kind of sermon becomes dull. And I do not feel comfortable with a man talking for a long time. No one likes an unfruitful sermon which is similar to one’s travelogue or monologue. The sermons should address the present situation, issues of the church, society, and the world.
In my own experience, I learned to present the sermon in the context of the hearers. During ministry, I got privilege to reach out to many ethnic people groups in Nepal. In many parts of the country, I had to mingle myself with other people whose language, culture, faith, norms and values of life, and worldview were completely different than mine. Although they can speak Nepali, an official language, I hardly could understand their accent. But it was my duty and opportunity as well to share the story of God and his grace to them though they did not know their role in the story. It was not possible until I contextualize the story in their own local setting, culture, and understanding the morals of their lives. In order to get them involved in my story, I contextualized my speech so they might feel familiar with the words, terms, and settings. My ultimate goal was to help them to find their backstage identity in the light of the Gospel. That experience became my lifetime achievement in the ministry.
For example, I am somewhat familiar with some Nepalese cultures, traditions, and norms and values of the society. When I speak from the story of the prodigal son to my audience whose sons have left them, I contextualize the meaning of the biblical text without distorting the original text. It should not be like my reflection monologue or just a fairytale. With no haste, I illustrate the relevant story of the heavenly father whose children also have revolted against him. In the context of my audience, they usually live in extended family. However, the recent trend of single family has influenced the present generation. Therefore, sons ask their inheritance from their fathers and leave them after receiving possession from the fathers. The fathers feel that their hearts are torn due to the rebellion and separation of their sons.
After some years, many of their lives get worst, and they come back to their fathers. No matter how much their sons are wicked, fathers love, forgive, and accept their sons. This is the wonderful story of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and reconciliation that every father desires this story come to be true in his life. Without any delay, I contextualize this story to the local settings of my audience with the intention that they might find themselves what they are doing against the heavenly father. My ultimate goal is to draw them in the story through their own experience and sentiments that the father in heaven is also waiting for them to come back to him as they wait everyday for their sons in a hope that they will come back to them.