April 14, 2022
What’s in a Sermon? Part 6: Expectations
Well, just like a sermon, blog series must also come to an end. I will not say “In conclusion” yet, as this is not the conclusion. It is, however, the last step before we talk about how the whole sermon wraps together.
This time, we are on to the segment of the sermon called “Expectations.” The first thing you might notice is that this is a plural heading: there’s really only one Context, one Overview, one Reflection—though how you find emphasis in these may be different either depending on your personal understanding or your study methods.
Expectations, though, are more varied from the passage. Let us return to the Beatitudes and pick one: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). When you look at the “Expectations” portion of the sermon, you are now going to take the whole of the Biblical understanding you have just presented and then give practical ways in which your hearers can work with it. You are striving to answer the question:
“What does God expect us to do with this truth?”
As an aside: this concept is based on the assumption that God expects us to respond to the truth we see in Scripture. This particular post is not the place to wrestle with Law/Gospel/Spirit/Letter/Grace/Response issues, but I will acknowledge that there are varied understandings of the nature of God expecting our response to His truth.
Here in Expectations, the preacher should be working to connect the timeless truth of Scripture with the real lives of the hearers. This is a place where it can be extraordinarily tempting to pad it with a personal agenda, but beyond the jokes by bald guys about Elisha and the bears, don’t do it. Instead, you want to connect with where the people are right now. And because your congregation is not all in the same place in life, there are multiple Expectations to be found.
First of all, there is the key idea that Jesus has brought us peace with God. You can respond to this truth by encouraging people to trust in Jesus, to tell others about Jesus, and so forth—there is a salvation-message expectation in almost any reasonable unit of Scripture.
Second, there is the idea that we are called to be peacemakers with others, so what actions can that look like for us? You may find it good to encourage the congregation to forgive one another, make peace with troublesome folks in their life, be sure they are peaceful in a chaotic world. It would be valuable to note that “peace” is the presence of right relationship, not just the absence of conflict, and that right relationship is not possible between an abusive individual and survivors of abuse: do not add trauma to trauma by making all conflict as simple to resolve. Some conflict requires separation and protection of one party to bring peace.
Third, there would be ideas about how the Christian is called to intervene and bring peace into a chaotic world and how the Church, in its local and global forms, could be a part of bringing peace. This looks different based on differing contexts of the church, but consider the possibility that you are in a community with divisive issues. How can the church help? The bare minimum is to do no further harm—but what could you do affirmatively to promote peace?
Expectations is where you, the preacher, are connecting the truth to ways that your hearers can live it out. Your creativity really comes into force here, but you must also keep your ego in check. Your job here is not to prescribe absolutely (in most cases; should be obvious that “do not murder” means… “do not murder” for all) but to show what Scripture does prescribe and illustrate ways to live it out.
At this point, you are not proclaiming eternal truth, as you are with the Overview and Reflection, summarizing what the Holy Scriptures say, but you are presenting your own opinion. Be clear, be humble, be aware of your hearers and their world.
Next up, we’ll see how all this rolls together to make a sermon.