Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pastors, Pay Attention to Details in Your Sermon!

I would be the last person to suggest that I am the model of what a preaching pastor should be--when I hear myself from time to time, I honestly wonder why anyone keeps coming back to hear me. It is an amazing privilege to preach God's Word, and I do not take it lightly--may I never do so! But I continue to work at it, and I trust that you do, too.

When I listen to a sermon, I sometimes find that little mistakes stick out and distract me. This is more of a problem for those of us who are more familiar with the text, and it's certainly not like sharing wrong theology. But, we ought to do all we can to minimize confusion and distractions.

So, can I just encourage all of us preachers, teachers, and those who aspire to do the same to be attentive to the small (and perhaps not so small) things that can cause a mind seeking to follow us not to be distracted or misled through carelessness in the details. Here are three examples I would encourage you to consider.

1. Know your Bible names and books as your people should know them. Jesus lived in Nazareth growing up, and he raised Lazarus from the dead, not "Lazareth." Every time I hear a preacher say the latter, I cringe. It happens in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as well! The final book of the Bible is not "Revelations" but "Revelation." The Old Testament book is Psalms, but when we look up one we say "Psalm" as in "Psalm 23" never "Psalms 23."

2.  Practice Bible names and places if you are going to read or use them out loud. But be careful about trying to give a common Bible name or place the "right"original pronunciation, though. Yes, the Hebrews would have called him "Shaul," but he is Saul in English. Jesus is our Savior, and while "Y'shua" is the Hebrew/Aramaic name, we sound pretentious when we do that. At the same time, there is genuine room for variety with an "Epaphras" (is it EPaphras, ePAPHras, or epaPHRAS--the Greek would favor the last, but I hear the first two more often) so choose and stick to it! Generally, it's best to use whatever has become the commonly accepted pronunciation, if there is one.

3. Keep your Bible characters and stories straight. Recently I heard a great speaker refer to Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (he got that right!) as having anointed Jesus' feet with her tears and then drying them with her hair. It's a wonderful story, but it's not Mary! Mary anointed Jesus with valuable ointment and dried his feet with her hair just before his burial, in her home in Bethany (Matt 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:2-11), not in Galilee where the other woman, a notorious sinner, entered a Pharisee's house to do this earlier (Luke 7:37 ff). Oh, and this wasn't Mary Magdalene either--many suggest it was. While she might have had a sinful background (after all she had seven demons cast out of her) she isn't named here. And one more thing, the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 was not Mary Magdalene either--although that is an error that goes back over 1500 years, it isn't true, as that woman (a resident of Jerusalem, not Galilee) is not named. Mary Magdalene loved the Lord, but no anointing by her is ever recorded.