Black Saints Celebration
- Maurice Nutt, CSsR
- Maurice Nutt, CSsR
FLESH MADE WORD
There is a common misnomer by some to relegate the black preaching tradition to merely a style of preaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. While stylistic attributes are most notable in black preaching, one would miss the totality of the black preaching tradition if he focused only on the way that a sermon or homily is delivered. It is important to understand that in addition to style, the black preaching tradition is concerned with sermonic structure, biblical interpretive approaches, the black lived experiences, relevant current social, political and economic issues, sound Christian theology as well the correctives found in black theology. One must understand that both the Word of God and the black preaching tradition has been a tremendous source of support and consolation through the anguish and afflictions endured over centuries. These dimensions are all aspects of the tradition. To diminish or ignore one is to not address the full counsel of this unique preaching tradition.
Vital to preaching in the black preaching tradition are three essential elements; namely, preaching and the Holy Spirit, preaching as celebration and preaching for liberation: Holy Spirit-filled preaching is a requisite for many African Americans. In fact the person who preaches the Gospel makes a statement about the Holy Spirit just by entering the pulpit. Rev. Dr. James Forbes says that “the preaching event itself – without reference to specific texts and themes – is a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood expression of the theology of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, the challenge for preachers in the African American community is to free themselves to be used by the Holy Spirit and to cease trying to quench the Spirit.
In black preaching the preacher always presents a revelation. This revelation is communicated with inspiration and celebration. It is a matter of glorifying God and involving the hearers. The preacher is not an impartial reporter of what happens between the divine and God’s people in human history as recorded in Scripture. The preacher is one whose experience resonates with those in the biblical stories; therefore, the preacher is both recorder and witness. The biblical story is the preacher’s story, and it becomes the congregation’s story as well. The sermon or homily participates in a celebration of the kerygma or the Good News. Black preaching affirms celebration by reflecting on black people’s lived experience of the Word. Through black preaching, the faithful are theologically informed; they are inspired; and they are empowered to “run on just a little while longer,” knowing that by God’s grace everything will be alright. Finally, black preaching in effect is preaching for liberation.
Liberation preachers, especially those preaching to black congregations believe that God operates through the process of history to free humankind from oppression. They contend that God aims for all people to have respect, secure living conditions, freedom, opportunities to relate with all people in love and justice. Black preaching for liberation is to promote a world in which all live together in love, justice, dignity and shared material resources: thus, the preaching objective must have a moral and theological responsibility to develop a sound hermeneutical approach to the Gospel. The preacher is compelled to say something that addresses the needs of the people – directing the message to their head and heart. This holistic message will teach blacks how to live as Christians and how to relate their religion to freedom practices. In essence, sermons or homilies must encourage oppressors to repent, to turn away from complicity in oppression, and to turn toward God’s liberating work in history. Preachers in the black preaching tradition must uplift the oppressed with God’s message of hope and the assurance that “trouble don’t last always.”
A Conversation with Maurice Nutt, CSsR
Questions for Reflection
- What are the hallmarks of black preaching?
- Is your preaching biblically grounded, theologically sound, and culturally relevant?
- Preaching informs, inspires, motivates is a classic description of preaching. How do you describe your preaching experience?
- Does one spend time in prayer “talking with the Word” as part of the preparation process?
- Are all readings incorporated into the homily, or is there a limited focus?
- On a scale of 1-10, where does preparation for preaching rank in terms of my priorities in the use of my time each week? How much time do you think most preachers devote to preparing their Sunday homily?
- “My text is just a safety net. I know what I want to say. The outline keeps me on point.” What differences do you experience in your own preaching when you use an outline, a full, written text, or preach without notes?
- How is your body the medium of communication? Do you consciously use gesture, movement, and inflection to enhance your message?
- Are you passionate in your preaching? How embodied is your preaching?