I had the honor and joy of speaking last week at the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Ill. In one of my three plenaries, I talked about “writing for the senses.” It seemed to go over well enough.
I believe not only in writing for the senses, but in teaching and preaching for them, too. That is, consciously involving the learner’s senses whenever possible (I was, therefore, quite glad that Kristin Sanders’ sermon on Sunday at Cobblestone Community Church involved a good metaphor and helpful props).
Some of my favorite sensory preaching moments in the past have been:
Taste and Touch
On Palm Sunday 2010, in the final message in a series called “Do Something,” I talked about how during my latest visit to Jerusalem, as our group was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, our guide Nader pointed out to us several times a scrap of bread on a window ledge or a few pieces on an electrical box. He explained that because Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread, bread is so revered by the Christians of Jerusalem that they will not throw it in the garbage … and if any bread falls to the ground or is seen on the ground, the residents will pick it up and place it on a ledge so it won’t be trampled underfoot. So I asked everyone to come to communion, expecting to meet the living Christ in the breaking of bread like those two disciples, and then I asked them, on their way back to their seats, to leave a piece or two or more of bread on the window ledge to represent the person or persons they had invited or planned to invite to Easter, with a prayer that that person would someday soon be meeting the living Christ in the breaking of bread, as they had just done. It prompted a beautiful response from the people of God that day.
Oh What a Sight
One Summer (2009, the 40th anniversary of the original “Summer of Love”) we did a “Summer of Love” series. As a sort of fun finale, I delivered my message on “The Breadth of Love” from Ephesians 3:18 and Luke 15:1-7 in hippie threads. Some people giggled through the whole thing. I don’t know why. I thought I was groovy.
Taste of Grace
In a study of Galatians called “Livin’ Venti,” I preached on the first 10 verses of Galatians 2 in a message called “Free to Belong.” I wanted to emphasize the futility of adding to the Gospel of Grace. So I produced a fresh Krispy Kreme donut and asked how many would eat that donut if I gave it to them. Of course, many hands were raised. Then I produced a ketchup bottle, a jar of jam and a bottle of hot sauce, and added those ingredients to the donut, asking if anyone would eat it. ONE young man (in each celebration that morning!) raised a hand, so I gave him a bite. The crowd loved it—and even more when one of the guys had to leave the room shortly after to get a drink, or crackers, or something! It was fun—and, I hope, got the point across.
A Hands-Tied Experience
Also in the Livin’ Venti series, preaching on the latter half of Galatians 2, I preached the first part of the message in a strait jacket to illustrate our tendency to return over and over again to the constraints and strictures of the Law instead of enjoying the fact that we are “Free to Enjoy” the new life God gives us. That simple visual seemed to make this message one of the most impactful and memorable I’ve ever given. Oh, and in case you’re curious, the strait jacket was bought from a costume supply place. … I didn’t just happen to have it on hand, despite what you may think.
Wedding Banquet, Draft Notice
In an 11-part study of the book of Revelation (that is easily one of my favorite series, ever), I gave the ninth message, “The Last Word on Salvation,” on Revelation 19-20. In it, I depicted salvation as wedding (ch. 19) and war (ch. 20), and we did a number of things to try to drive the point home. We divided the message into two parts, separated by the celebration of communion. For the first