Sometime I wonder if Jesus spoke in our churches, if he wouldn’t get asked back. His style was so different from what most people hear on Sunday morning. Actually, his approach reminds me more of the cinema than a sermon.
Discovery > Clarity
The movies that cause me to roll my eyes are always the ones I can see where things are headed. It’s predictable. Weather the director has made the foreshadowing too obvious or the characters in the film are not realistic, the audience never wants to feel like they are on a rail road track forced to head in a certain direction. It can almost feel insulting when you can see the girl is going to break up with her idiot boyfriend and marry the handsome but troubled stranger after 5 minutes into the movie.
On the other hand, my favorite movies are the ones that surprise me. The ones I end up discussing and thinking about long after the credits roll. I love movies with twist endings. I’m inspired by films that cause me to think and stir something inside me.
Similarly, Jesus taught in a way that allowed people to discover the truth. That’s why he told so many stories. People were free to uncover the truth on their own. They left with their own interpretation and even misinterpretation.
Often, sermons today are known for prescribing solutions. How often do pastors tell us what to think rather than cause us to think? When’s the last time we left a church service with more questions than answers? It seems to me, most of Jesus’ listeners walked away confused, uncertain, and with plenty to talk about. Today, we often leave far too sure of ourselves and thinking about where to go to lunch.
Many churches pride themselves on teaching the Bible verse by verse (expository preaching) but Jesus never taught this way once. His inductive and inspirational style always kept crowds guessing. One of Jesus’ favorite lines was “You’ve heard it said… Now I tell you…” Sometimes I wonder if the church today has settled for just “You’ve heard it said.”
Nuance > Knowledge
As I’ve studied film, I’ve come to admire how much thought goes into the color tones, wardrobe, backdrops, and script. Everything is done for a specific reason and to evoke a certain emotion in the viewer. For instance, next time you watch a movie notice how the colors of the protagonist will usually be bright or when the negative turn occurs in a film, is typically in the evening. Film makers care about every painstaking detail so their art is communicated perfectly. If you think of all the great films, they had a subtlety to them that left you appreciating the way the director told the story.
As I’ve studied Jesus’ teachings, I’ve discovered a similiar kind of art form. His words were loaded with nuance and symbolism. His stories painted these complex and beautiful pictures of a kingdom we long for. Sometimes, he would make subtle references to his rabbinic tradition or the surrounding culture. His teachings remind me more of a master painter than a sermon. I’ve grown to appreciate his craft and creativity.
In the prodigal son story, the audience would have been offended by the son requesting his share of the inheritance. They would have been shocked by the father running to embrace him. They would have understood the powerful symbolism behind the father giving his son the best robe, a ring, and shoes. The would have been stirred by the sacrifice of the fattened calf. They would have been troubled by the father’s words to his other son, “‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”(1)
Most sermons are not characterized by this same kind of creativity. Today, sermons often feel cookie cutter and formulaic. They can sometimes feel over-rehearsed or scripted.
So why don’t pastors teach like Jesus? I think in the pastor’s concern for being accurate, they’ve forgotten the craft Jesus explored. Perhaps some have learned to trust what their congregation is expecting rather than the Spirit of God. Others are so fearful of being wrong, they don’t dare be creative. After all, artistic expression is inherently risky, so much so, it got Jesus killed. However, great art is what transforms lives, not sermons.
For so long I think I was reading from a prescribed script when it came to communicating to others about God. Ironically, now I think I’m starting to read the Bible and see how Jesus did it. Like a good movie, his teachings refresh and awaken something inside me. I discover something new every time and I find myself memorizing some of the best lines. Best of all, I find his stories coming up in conversations as easily as “Have you seen that movie?” I’m not interested in converting others with the good news. I’m excited to be inspired with others like a good movie.
- Luke 15:11-32