The 2023 Festival of Homiletics theme was “Preaching Hope for a Weary World.” Preachers from around the world descended on Minneapolis, Minnesota, this week to hear inspiring sermons and discuss the craft of preaching.
After congregations endured a global pandemic – and socio-political issues continue to divide the world – people have grown extremely weary. Preachers are attempting to balance the need to be both prophetic and priestly to their congregations and community.
The balancing act has taken a toll on many ministers, as the number of clergy resigning their posts increased rapidly during and after the pandemic. Citing fatigue, burnout and conflict, some clergy needed a clean break from church life.
For those who stayed, navigating the world after the pandemic remains difficult. Meetings such as the Festival of Homiletics offer clergy the opportunity to hear hope from other preachers and sharpen their skills when standing behind the sacred desk.
Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry comforted the audience by reminding them, “We [the church] shall overcome because he [Jesus] has already overcome.”
In a lecture, Curry encouraged ministers to preach from their roots. Knowing who we are and where we come from keeps clergy grounded in their spiritual and ancestral roots. He mentioned, “When you deviate from your motto [roots], you are less than you want to be.”
More than anything, though, Curry spoke about the need for ministers to preach love. Retelling a story about the late guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Curry quoted the rockstar, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.”
Other presenters spoke about the importance of prophetic preaching. Jay Augustine, a law professor and reconciliation scholar, told the crowd, “The role of religious leadership in advancing reconciliation and social justice is part of prophetic leadership, usually in response to social circumstances.”
While informing the audience that sermons should not be partisan, but they should be political, Augustine said, “Prophetic preaching is both divinely inspired and socially determined. It should always invoke a social justice-oriented response and provide hope for humanity, rebuking dominant forms of marginalization.”
Anna Carter Florence, Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, preached a sermon from Joshua 2 titled, “Listening at the Edges and Inside the Wall.” She began, “For way too long, Joshua has been read through the lens of manifest destiny. This theology needs to be disrupted.”
Carter Florence pointed out how “Rahab sees truth when others don’t.” Because of her insight and wisdom, she survives. Rahab’s persistence, which Carter Florence calls faith, helps the foreigner acknowledge God’s work among the Hebrews.
In her conclusion, the preacher asked the crowd, “Is it possible to see God at work beyond our walls?” Carter Florence called out Christians who are so self-focused that they cannot see God’s work outside their communities. She acknowledged God works within marginalized communities, offering comfort and hope.
Raquel Lettsome, Distinguished Visiting Scholar of the New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, preached a sermon titled “Preaching Hope for the Weary World” from Acts 27:20.
She warned preachers about the temptation to overpromise, advising that they “avoid concretizing hope in ways we cannot deliver or determine.”
Instead, Lettsome suggested pointing people to God: “Christian hope is not about the outcome but about God.” Concentrating on God provides a hopeful community in which people do not feel alone in their problems.
Preaching on the final day of the festival, Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, reminded participants that the church needs to have a blessed body image. He critiqued the church for demanding a colonized body that is “churchified,” telling the audience that even though we have broken bodies, we are blessed.
He said, “When you are told you have a ‘churchified’ body, you try to hide it. The church has forgotten that we are saved by a broken body.” If we can honor the broken body, then we will be more welcoming of the broken bodies we encounter each day.
Finally, attending my first “Beer and Hymns” was a great highlight. Singing sacred songs with colleagues while enjoying our favorite beverages filled our souls and hearts with inspiration and hope.
There was something special about sipping suds and singing sacred tunes. Lifting a pint with our voices offered a reverence that felt real and communal.
While the Festival of Homiletics may not be for everyone, I have come to look forward to it each year. The preaching is challenging and inspirational, sending me back to life’s grind ready to engage the world with hope and justice.