As preachers we all believe that the sermons we preach carry the words of God; but what do we mean when we say ‘the words of God’? What makes our words ‘the words of God’ in preaching?
As a way of answering this question, I would point to Hebrews 4:12 which says: “The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” What about the word of God makes it appear to be sharper than a sword? Can we have an example or two that exemplifies how a word could divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow?
In Mark 10:17-31, a rich man comes to Jesus asking this huge theological question, “Teacher, what should I do to have eternal life?” Jesus says to him, “You know what the Bible says: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'” Hearing all this, this young man did not think a second and said, “Teacher, I did all.” Jesus looked at him and said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” The text says this man was shocked and went away grieving. To the man, what he just heard from Jesus was like a sword that pierced through his conscience.
In John 8:1-11, a group of people brought in a woman. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery.” What would you do? Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him throw a stone at her.” Hearing this, the text says, everyone went away ashamed. It was a moment of spiritual surgery to those whose hearts were hardened. The word was nothing but a sharp sword.
In a Discovery Channel documentary, I saw this Japanese family that has been making sushi knives for many generations; all that the featured man does is put his sweat and soul into a piece of metal meticulously every day. After the entire process, they eventually showed us his art work; the blade was dazzling! Now, they took this knife to a sushi restaurant to see how it worked; and I could not believe my eyes—the knife was so sharp that the sushi man was able to make slices of fish look like sheets of paper. They said that they had to wash the blade each and every time they cut a slice; otherwise, the blade would rust.
What makes our words the words of God, which are shaper than a sword, so that our audience may be shocked, grieving, rejoicing, or even transforming in their hearts, minds, and lives? Simply raising your voice or citing different texts from here and there will only make sermons dull. Sharp sermons always need new insights to break the spiritual numbness of this age. For that, good sermons need the same diligence, meticulous skills, and artistic craftsmanship a good sushi knife requires.
Sangyil (Sam) Park, PhD
Associate Professor of Preaching
and Director of D. Min Program
American Baptist Seminary of the West