I’ll never forget my first sermon, preached in the student chapel service at Bible College. What a rookie sermon it was. The text was Deuteronomy 30:11-20 and I titled the sermon, Choose Life! It came off the back of a term of preaching training. If a sermon is a meal, that first meal I served up was heavy on exegesis and light on relevance.
But the congregation was gracious, and the Principal, David Cook’s, evaluation was not unkind. Preaching is hard work. It takes a lot of practice to work out how to do it well. Thirty years on, I’ve got a routine I follow but I still call preaching ‘that hard thing I love’. I love it because I am able, in preaching, not only to serve God’s people and bring glory to Jesus and because I also get to spend so much time diving into a God’s word for myself. But it’s still hard work. Hard work that is fruitful. The best kind.
When I was originally trained to preach, we were introduced to a template. It was great because it simplified a very complex process. I still use a template because it’s so valuable to have a method, but the one I use today incorporates more of the homiletical process and some pointers I find I need to make sure my sermons always get to Jesus, preaches to the heart and honours women as well as men.
In an earlier article I explained how I map out a sermon using that template. This is what it looked like recently for a Palm Sunday text: Mark 11:1-11. I was working on several texts that week for Holy week, and it struck me that the treatment of Jesus on Palm Sunday, followed by his condemnation five days later was an example of Cancel Culture at work. One day the crowd is passionate about proclaiming Jesus as Lord, five days later the same crowd is dumping him. Perhaps this explains late modernity’s rejection of Jesus and perhaps even some of us Christians are at risk of cancelling Jesus too when we think he is failing us.
Title: What is Cancel Culture and what can we learn from the way Jesus was ‘cancelled’? (A longer question than I usually like, but I do try to phrase the sermon as a question. It not only highlights its relevance but it helps the sermon come up in google searches when it is later posted on our website)
Introduction: Extended Illustration about J K Rowling being cancelled. Mention a few other people that have been cancelled. Explain the modern phenomena of cancel culture. Mention that Mark 11 and the passion narratives show that cancel culture is not a new phenomenon but an ancient one. Let’s jump into the text and take a look at it.
Context: Its Sunday, 5 days ahead of Jesus’ arrest. Jerusalem has swelled from 80,000 to about 2 million people for the Passover festival. People are hyped and hopeful. Jesus’ arrival fills them with hope.
1. They recognise Jesus as a kind of King (Laying palm branches, singing hosanna). Explain why they recognise him as a king.
2. The ‘coronation’ of Jesus is a bit off (a donkey features!)
3. He really is a king (Old Testament references). The meaning of ‘Hosanna’ -literally ‘save’ and why we know Jesus really is the King. Why ‘hosanna’ was the right thing to call out.
4. No one welcomes him at the temple courts…and spell out what happens in a few days time and why both the mob and the religious leaders will condemn him and the Roman leaders won’t intervene to stop it.
What can we learn?
1. The toxic nature of cancel culture (its themes of tolerance, personal safety, back to J K Rowling and the line in the sand for people today). Link to Jesus and where he crossed the line for people.
2. Jesus didn’t cancel people and neither should we. Jesus cancelled sin, not people. Social media as the new ‘mob’. How Jesus called out truth, nonetheless.
3. We need to beware of being like the mob: overvaluing our sense of self, rejecting ‘truths’ that threaten us, cancelling those that no longer meet our expectations.
4. What are your expectations of God? Of Jesus? Of the Holy Spirit? Spell out common ones. I referenced the top ten Christian songs of 2022 and what they said about our expectations of God today. Are we at risk of cancelling God?
5. Following Jesus involves honouring him as true King. Are you prepared to do that even when he doesn’t meet your expectations?
Landing the plane: I read out the lyrics of the most popular Christian song of all time: Holy, Holy, Holy, talked about how it correctly honours God and used it as an inspiration for our own response to Jesus and a prayer to conclude.
You can download a copy of the sermon template at asinheaven.blog
The Reverend Tracy Lauersen is Rector of St Paul’s Warragul. Mid-year Tracy will take up a new position as National Manager, Families and Culture for the General Synod.