I am at Northern Light, a Bible week come holiday week in North Yorkshire. I’m here to do some preaching and to lead a couple of seminars on what it means to be prophetic. I’ve done stuff at Northern Light a couple of times before but not for about five or six years. It’s good to be back. The main thing I like about the week is its relaxed, down to earth feel.
The preach is at the evening celebration and I’m tackling Isaiah six. Preparing has reminded me again about why I like this kind of passage. It’s a text that positively demands that you let your imagination run wild – the hem of his robe filled the temple! I will be spending a fair bit of the sermon trying to get people to picture the scene with its blazing seraphs flying and shouting, smoke filling the temple (which is already filled, don’t forget, with God’s turn ups) and the very foundations trembling and indeed melting away. What was Isaiah on?
Hope I can pull it off. It will take careful, creative use of words and a fair bit of imagination from me and the congregation. These are two of the skills of preaching that we don’t make nearly enough of: imagination and the creative use of words. In the recent past we’ve tended to flatten preaching down to doctrinal point making. We have valued being clear over being evocative. We’ve forgotten that preaching at its best is not just the craft of getting ideas across it’s also the art of opening people’s eyes; opening them to the reality of God and helping them to picture what life in this world would be like if we took this God seriously.
So here’s my suggestion: preaching should be much less prosaic much more evocative. Instead of spending all our time learning how to use PowerPoint let’s put some effort into learning how to use the spoken word. I vote for more poetry and more rhetoric from our pulpits. Otherwise we’ll never ever do justice to passages like Isaiah chapter six.