“Preaching is an art, and as one of my professors in seminary said, ‘Sunday comes around with embarrassing regularity,’” said the Rev. David Shirey.
He was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service on Aug. 9 in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Jesus in 20 Minutes,” and the Scripture reading was Matthew 16:13-17, where Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Shirey described several genres of preaching. Expository preaching takes the Scripture verse by verse and word by word to help the congregation understand the message.
Narrative preaching uses stories that tell “the greatest story ever told.” Topical preaching picks a theme and uses Scripture to illustrate that theme.
“Then there is the good old ‘three points and a poem’ style,” he said.
Since this is a week on the arts, Shirey decided to “go off the grid” and be creative in answering the question Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”
Describing Jesus in 20 minutes, the average length of a sermon, posed a challenge for Shirey.
He told a story about an eccentric millionaire who invited people to his pool.
“The first person to swim the length of the pool and get out will win a million dollars,” the millionaire told them.
People ran to the edge of the pool and stopped because it was teeming with alligators. Suddenly, there was a splash, and the alligators were snapping their jaws and swinging their tails.
Then a man got out of the pool at the other end. The millionaire ran up and said to him, “You must really have wanted the million dollars.”
“What I really want to know is who pushed me in,” the man said.
Shirey pushed himself into this dilemma of describing Jesus in 20 minutes, so he decided to talk to four friends. He called his friend John, and asked him how he would describe Jesus in that short a time.
“Tell them what Jesus claimed for himself, that if we have seen him, we have seen the Father,” John said.
How would I do that, Shirey asked.
John told him to use wide swaths of splendor and to use words that sparkle, such as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John asked Shirey if he had access to music.
“Yes, I have Jared Jacobsen and a wonderful choir,” Shirey said.
John suggested singing “I Love To Tell the Story” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
John also suggested lots of color, to stimulate the sight, and Shirey said the choir had blue robes and that he would be wearing his most colorful stole.
Shirey then called his friend Mark and asked the same question.
“Tell them that Jesus was a man of action, a savior with his sleeves rolled up, inspiration and perspiration,” Mark said.
How would I do that, Shirey asked.
“Find a wrong and right it, take on an injustice,” Mark said. “As Pastor Fred Craddock used to say, ‘Pray through clenched teeth,’ like Jesus at Gethsemane.”
And what hymn would Mark use? He suggested “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” especially the phrase “one little word will fell him (Satan).”
“My friend Luke is never at home,” Shirey said. “I left a message and when he called back, I told him I had 20 minutes to describe Jesus. He said I did not need 20 minutes, I only needed one word — compassion.”
Compassion goes right to the heart of Jesus. He was the suffering servant who reached out to widows and orphans.
The hymn Luke suggested was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” especially the line, “Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art.”
That sentence says more about Jesus than all the books in your library, Luke said. Then take up an offering to give to the poor and find some place to serve, a place to be compassionate.
Shirey called his friend Matthew last. Matthew told him to tell the congregation that “he was a rabbi, a teacher like no other. Talk about the parables.”
Matthew also suggested that Shirey read out loud as much of the Sermon on the Mount as possible in 20 minutes.
“Tell them to build their house on the rock and not on the sand,” Matthew said.
Shirey asked if he could review what he had learned with Matthew, who said yes.
“John said tell them he was the Heaven-sent son of God and to use wide swaths of glory. Mark called him a man of action, and Luke used the word compassion. You called him rabbi and David’s royal son,” Shirey said. “Have I got it all?”
Matthew told Shirey he could reflect on Jesus for his whole life. Shirey asked him to tell him more.
“Later; your 20 minutes are up,” Matthew said.
The Rev. J. Paul Womack presided. The Rev. Betsey Crimmins, a longtime Chautauquan and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elmira, New York, read the Scripture. Willie La Favor, piano, Debbie Grohman, clarinet and Barbara Hois, flute, played two movements, “Beauty” and “Anguish” from “Trio For Our Time” by Eric Ewazen for the prelude. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons)” by Tom Trenney. The Gladys R. Brasted and the Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.