Every Sunday the preacher is privileged to present again some part of a remarkable drama. Even the fully initiated cannot help but hold their breath. Will Sarah have a son after she laughed at the messenger? What good can Joseph do in Egypt in jail? Can engaging music be evoked in Babylon? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? A Messiah dead?
Central to the intriguing drama, whether on stage or off, slightly visible or fully mysterious, is God. What fascinates both the preacher and the listening community are the ways this God proceeds, time and again, in unexpected, unimaginable creating of new possibilities. Leading out of near certain dead-ends, cul-de-sacs, come new highways.
The story is so engaging that many gather regularly to hear it repeated. But each new encounter with the story is more than simple repetition. At different stages of life, amid changing social, political, economic contexts, the Scriptures spring forth anew in freshness and vibrancy.
Then, in steps small and large, careful listeners are drawn into the drama, not simply intrigued and inspired by the good story. The listeners now realize that the drama is unfinished and ongoing.
The listeners become more than a listening community. William Stacy Johnson wrote, "By becoming one with humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, God has determined not to be God without us."1
Thus the listening community moves from audience to stage.
For this to happen, deep concentration is required on Sundays. All week the people of faith live in a context where other powerful competing scripts, texts, ideologies dominate. Straight lines seem so obvious, so sensible: bigger is better, evil needs to be overcome by force, violence requires counter and greater violence. But the people of God, those with the biblical story lodged deeply in the memory, see other options. Fully amazed at Gods ways and believing that the creativity of God has not diminished, nor Gods power come anywhere near exhaustion, the people of God wait, lean forward, hope, and work.
With this faith and hope embedded in their hearts, with the vision thus shaped, members of the Christian community choose to align their corporate life according to the texts. Their themes become the major melodies of the music sung, and the lives lived.
Caught up in Gods vision, the community of faith finds itself taking new turns, living out new options, dreaming new dreams. Since, in Christ, Jew and Gentile have been reconciled, it is of course possible for those who are very different to be brought together. If enemies are fed instead of hated, all kinds of possibilities arise. "The just . . . live by faith."
For fifteen years it was my privilege to consider the biblical drama and vision with the Salford Mennonite congregation of southeastern Pennsylvania. In Sunday morning sermons, wedding meditations, funeral services, membership classes, multiple teaching opportunities and conversations, I had the wonderful privilege to give witness to Gods ways. Building on the faithful work of previous pastors and teachers in the congregation, I sought to steward the Word.
While the depth and breadth of Scripture always far exceeded my efforts to articulate its message fully, I was privileged to see the message take root. As Richard Lischer has described what happens, there was a "remarkable synergy of the spoken word and the life of the baptized community."2
The congregation lived the Word in special care for the mentally ill and a commitment to serve the developmentally disabled and the elderly. Teachers taught history and world cultures, not as viewed through American eyes, but from a global perspective. Business persons hired individuals who had previously failed. Young persons volunteered to servefrom Vietnam to Swaziland to Zambia. The Word continued to take on flesh.
To be sure, we did not see Satan fall entirely from heaven (Luke 10:18), but again and again the reigning ideologies of our time were questioned and countered, and new possibilities were offered.
In the sermons included in this volume, as in all my preaching, I tried to draw upon the whole of the Scriptures. Knowing that the Bible comes to us in very rich diversity, with delightful various melodies from multiple angles, I have sought to give voice to this richness.
Needless to say, the preacher draws from the fruit of countless imaginative and faithful interpreters of the faith of generations past and present. I am most grateful for this great multitude of diligent teachers and writers, from a number of whom I trust I have learned a little.
My thanks to John L. Ruth for his assistance in helping to select the sermons for this volume, for his editorial work and for his ongoing encouragement and good counsel. I hereby also acknowledge with gratitude the fine work of Michael A. King of Cascadia Publishing House.
My wife, Ellen Rose Herr Longacre, has always had a keen ear for imaginative phrases, apt descriptions, the creative edge. She knows a good sermon when she hears it. I trust I have met her expectations occasionally.
James C. Longacre
© 2008 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC